The Clarinetist’s Tool Kit

During my teaching these past few years, I’ve developed an analogy I like to call the clarinetist’s tool kit. I’m not referring to the literal tools a clarinetist might need such as pliers, screwdriver, or alcohol lamp (we’ll save that for another article). Instead, I refer to skills a clarinetist should develop to be ready for any musical situation.

If you have an actual tool kit, there are probably a lot of tools you rarely or never use. You probably keep these because one day you might need them. This is true for the clarinetist’s tool kit. A clarinetist must develop a myriad of tools, some of which they might rarely use. However, the tools are at the clarinetist’s disposal should they need them. Of course, there will be some tools that the clarinetist uses every day, so they must make sure these are always ready to use. Developing a well-stocked clarinetist’s tool kit takes years of dedication and perseverance.

Here are some “tools” (fundamental skills or techniques) I believe every clarinetist should acquire for their own tool kit:

  • Articulation – single tongue in a variety of styles (staccato, legato, etc) and speeds; double tonguing; flutter tonguing; slap tonguing; lateral tonguing
  • Breathing – developing breath support; circular breathing; breath attacks
  • Embouchure – single lip; double lip; voicing; adjustments for pitch bends and other skills; growling; singing while playing
  • Technique – agility and precision; half holing; glissandi
  • Tuning – be able to match yourself and others; multiphonics and microtones; pitch bending
  • Vibrato – diaphragmatic vibrato; embouchure vibrato
  • Posture – excellent posture; ability to play and cue other musicians; choreography for certain pieces

As you read this list, you might think to yourself that you’ll never have to use some of these tools. For example, lateral tonguing doesn’t seem imminently useful (or at least it doesn’t to me), but it’s always better to have as many tools as possible so you can be ready to play in a wider variety of musical styles and situations.

Depending on what your career and performance goals are, you might use more tools than others, just like contractors use different tools depending on the nature of their work. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work on building a comprehensive tool kit. The more tools you have, the more jobs you can do (both literally and metaphorically).

The list above is by no means comprehensive, but hopefully it is enough to get you started so you can build your own clarinetist’s tool kit.

So, what tools would you like to include in your clarinet tool kit?

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