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Throat Tone Tips for Clarinetists

Do your throat tones tend to sound fuzzy, muffled, pinched, nasal, or less than ideal?

If so, you’re not alone!

The clarinet is not a perfect instrument (shocking, I know!), and some notes need a little extra help to sound beautiful.

Let’s talk about throat tones. Why do clarinet throat tones sound so different than lower or higher notes?

Simply put, it’s the length of the tube. When you blow air into the mouthpiece, that air doesn’t have a lot of time/length of tube to develop if you’re playing an open G. Compare that to playing low E, where the air must travel the entire length of the clarinet to leave through the bell – the air has more time and space to spin into a richer sound. Because the length of the tube is shorter for throat tones, it can be difficult at first to match the timbre (sound quality) to the surrounding notes.

Here are a few tips to improve clarinet throat tones:

  • Embrace resonance fingerings. Many students balk at using resonance fingerings because it can complicate otherwise “easy” notes. There are several things you should know about resonance fingerings, which is why I’ve created a complete guide to clarinet resonance fingerings. Experiment with a variety of resonance fingerings to find the ones that work best for you and your instrument. If you’re not sure, ask a teacher or friend for help.
  • Check with a tuner. Before you can resolve any throat tone issues you may have, it’s important to know the tuning tendencies of your throat tones. Each clarinet will have different tuning tendencies here, and there are a variety of factors affecting this, such as reed strength and key height (more on that later). Spend a few minutes each day to become familiar with your tuning tendencies in the throat tones so you know which direction you want to go to improve their tuning.
  • Use your ears. Tuning is only one part of the equation. Even when throat tones are in tune, they often stick out because they don’t match the timbre of surrounding notes. Be sure to use lots of steady air and listen carefully to try and blend in your throat tones with the notes around them.
  • Love your long tones. Long tones are an important way to improve your sound (and many other fundamentals). Create or use throat tone long tones so you can focus on playing with a pure, beautiful sound in this register.
  • Determine if key height is a factor. If you’ve done all that you can and you’ve noticed that a throat tone still isn’t in tune, you can check with a qualified repair technician to see if raising or lowering the key height might help.
  • Practice with patience! (Pines of) Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the journey towards rich, resonant long tones takes consistency, focused practice, and patience.

What are your favorite throat tone tips? Leave a comment below!

Happy practicing!