Thursday, January 13, 2011

The High Register

Image: Maggie Smith /
Ahhhh the high register, also known as the altissimo. The bane of many a clarinet player. Most clarinet students won't get any higher than a high D or E, but those of us pursuing more advanced study have experience playing notes high in the stratosphere of the instrument.

So what is the key to playing in the high register? A harder reed, a more open mouthpiece, a more expensive barrel? These things may help, but it really all comes down to, as is almost always the case, AIR.

Air is the absolute most important thing when it comes to playing in the altissimo. You can practice your fingerings all you want but without proper support the notes will not speak.

Too often clarinet players beginning work in the high register resort to biting in order to get the note to speak. While this is somewhat effective, it results in a pinched and strident sound and is not at all reliable.

The key is to use as little jaw pressure as possible and a lot of air! Don't be afraid to play loud in the high register. There will be MANY MANY squeaks but don't worry! That's what practicing is for. Heaven knows that any good clarinet player has squeaked thousands of times and will continue to do so for the rest of their lives. Squeaks can be frustrating, but they are a natural by-product of practicing and trying out new things.

Players that have been relying on jaw-pressure alone will have a lot of trouble moving to an embouchure that allows the reed to vibrate freely on these high notes, but it will pay enormous dividends. Let the squeaks of progress resound!

1 comment:

  1. I could not agree more with the recommendation that pinching the reed is counterproductive for the altissimo register while fully supported air does the trick. One must hear the note prior to attacking it in order to get the desired tone. Now getting it to sound warmer is a whole different matter which is still not in my reach. Jules Portland