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Clarinet Roadshow => All about Clarinets => Topic started by: LarryS on December 14, 2020, 12:12:48 PM

Title: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: LarryS on December 14, 2020, 12:12:48 PM
I can play at a low volume but I then get a lot of air in the tone. Is it just a matter of getting a really tight embouchure, and does that come with time?
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: Dibbs on December 14, 2020, 02:22:54 PM
You could try a slightly softer reed.  I wouldn't say tight but you do need a firm embouchure.  And it really should be embouchure rather than increased jaw pressure - no biting.   Abdominal support, blowing from low down,  is very important.  You actually need to make just as much effort to play quietly as to play loudly. 

It's hard to explain what support is and many, many confusing words have been written about it.  I'll just leave you with the rather crude but unforgettable advice a professional trumpet player gave me when I was a kid - "It's a bit like forcing out a shit". 
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: Dibbs on December 14, 2020, 03:44:01 PM
And the air noise sounds worse to you than it does a couple of yards away.
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: LarryS on December 15, 2020, 12:13:05 AM
Thanks. I'm aware of air support thanks to my learning of recorder with Sarah Jeffery's videos.
I have one reed, a Legere 2.5, and an Rico cane reed, same equivalent strength.
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: modernicus on December 15, 2020, 08:43:00 PM
I've found playing from playing a hard reed on a really resistant setup and trying to minimize fuzziness, especially at low volumes and on lower notes, of course you start with a foundation of breath support, but I find if I concentrate on pulling not only my lips at the corners to form a supported embouchure, but farther back onto my cheeks to create a better "tunnel" to focus the air, it really helps. I have no idea if this is correct playing or not, but it works for me, so frankly, I don't care.  FWIW, I heard myself playing on a recording the other day and it sounded great- I was even surprised.  If I was any good at anything else on the clarinet, I'd be really happy!
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: windydankoff on December 16, 2020, 09:58:54 AM
I like everyone's advice here, especially the trumpet player's.

On my Bb and C clarinets, I use a soft reed on a low-resistance (large bore) instruments. I have no trouble playing softly with a soft embouchure. My G clarinet has a greater resistance with a small bore. To play softly, I must tighten my embouchure much more. EITHER WAY works. The trick is coordination of lips to breath. Standard lesson books advise playing long tones from soft to loud to soft. That helps teach you to synchronize your embouchure to your varying diaphragm pressure. If you can keep the PITCH constant, you got it right and the tone will take care of itself.
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: LarryS on December 16, 2020, 03:35:53 PM
Someone in a Facebook group suggested playing with fast but controlled air. If you play with slow air, which is the natural instinct to do, you get a lot of air because the pressure drops.
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: Dibbs on December 17, 2020, 02:25:04 PM
Oh no!  Not the fast and slow air thing.  If it works for you fair enough but it's never made much sense to me.

Here's how I see it.

Support is about maintaining and controlling the air flow regardless of what happens downstream.  i.e. variations in resistance from the instrument (including embouchure) do not affect number of cm3 of air pushed though the instrument per second and you have control over that flow rate.  It's like a low impedance source driving a high impedance load in electronics.

For a given flow rate, the speed of the air depends on the the size of the aperture it moves through.  Presumably the fast/slow air people are talking about the speed it passes through the tip opening of the mouthpiece (I may be wrong. I don't really understand this concept).  So, if you want it to go faster you can either make that opening smaller or push more air through.  So which?  Pushing more air through the same aperture will result in an increase in (sound) volume so the only option is to reduce the aperture.  That'll make the note go sharp so you'd have to compensate with voicing. 

Earlier, I said that you need to work just as hard to play quietly as to play loudly.  Are the fast/slow air people saying the same but in a
 (to me) weird way perhaps?

Some people talk about hot and cold air.  That really is a mystery. I have no control of the temperature of the air coming out of my mouth.

I don't really mean to have a go at fast/slow - hot/cold air proponents.  It's just that they make no sense to me personally.  If these metaphors work for you then that's good, but I think they have little grounding in physical reality. 
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: LarryS on December 17, 2020, 03:16:07 PM
Re warm v cold air. This is a piece of advice I use for recorder players. Recorder needs to be played with slow, warm air, and I say to people blow on the back of your hand. If it feels cold then you're blowing too fast for the bottom notes. If if it feels warm then you're on the right track.
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: TMHeimer on December 18, 2020, 02:34:14 PM
I admit I have never gotten seriously into the factors present to produce the sound.
I play on a Vandoren 5RV mouthpiece using Vandoren 2.5 reeds and have no problems loud or soft.
Of course, it is said that playing softly is more difficult, so I presume having a good reed makes it easier.
When you speak of airy sound playing softly what do you mean exactly? I assume you aren't talking about air escaping from the sides of your mouth.
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: LarryS on December 18, 2020, 03:09:51 PM
I admit I have never gotten seriously into the factors present to produce the sound.
I play on a Vandoren 5RV mouthpiece using Vandoren 2.5 reeds and have no problems loud or soft.
Of course, it is said that playing softly is more difficult, so I presume having a good reed makes it easier.
When you speak of airy sound playing softly what do you mean exactly? I assume you aren't talking about air escaping from the sides of your mouth.
Well its kind of like air going into the instrument, but less of it coming out as sound. Its like sound with air as accompaniment.
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: TMHeimer on December 19, 2020, 02:20:48 PM
In trying to think of what you mean, I may have had something similar with the first Legere reed I bought. It was a 2.5. The sound wasn't very good, maybe "airy"? I was advised to get one that is 1/2 strength softer than the wood reeds I use, so I got a Legere 2. This works well for sound (well, as good as a plastic reed can I guess). That may be something to consider, or maybe trying various wood reeds/strengths.
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: modernicus on December 19, 2020, 04:18:01 PM
In trying to think of what you mean, I may have had something similar with the first Legere reed I bought. It was a 2.5. The sound wasn't very good, maybe "airy"? I was advised to get one that is 1/2 strength softer than the wood reeds I use, so I got a Legere 2. This works well for sound (well, as good as a plastic reed can I guess). That may be something to consider, or maybe trying various wood reeds/strengths.
Yes, I think you've got the idea!  The other components of the clarinet, like the design of the mouthpiece make a big difference in this as well as the resistance of the clarinet itself in determining how easy it is to play quietly, in my opinion- especially without sounding fuzzy/airy.   I play a lot on a Vandoren 3.5 traditional reed mounted to Selmer HS* oval table and early 90s Yamaha CS Bb clarinet.  The reeds are very hard, and this setup is resistant at every component and physically demanding to play- honestly it isn't a lot of fun, but it's easier to get a sound like what I hear from the pros in recordings.  It takes almost max effort and concentration at every moment, otherwise you get a very airy and lackluster sound, especially at lower volumes on, say the throat notes, etc...Again, if I was any good, it would be bragging, but technically I suck.  What I really have fun playing in a setup is a well broken in Vandoren 3 or maybe even softer, on an old G. Langenus mouthpiece I have, and my 1st Eric Petterson clarinet.  It has a big bore and very small flare at the bottom (apparently has a counterintuitive effect), and practically plays itself by comparison- at any volume.  In this type of setup, you've got to focus more on breathe CONTROL, rather than the physical effort of blowing, focusing the air, etc... to control dynamics and sound.
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: LarryS on December 20, 2020, 07:06:34 AM
Clarinet is often not a joy to play. It often feels like trying to force water out of a long garden hose.
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: Airflyte on December 20, 2020, 08:13:24 AM
Clarinet is often not a joy to play. It often feels like trying to force water out of a long garden hose.

Air should flow right out of the horn. Is your clarinet in top playing condition?

A good reed is joy to play.

Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: LarryS on December 20, 2020, 08:14:22 AM
Clarinet is often not a joy to play. It often feels like trying to force water out of a long garden hose.

Air should flow right out of the horn. Is your clarinet in top playing condition?

A good reed is joy to play.
Oh yes the horn is fine. Its the soft squidgy part that's the problem, i.e. me
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: windydankoff on December 20, 2020, 08:27:26 AM
I contemplate the reply from Modernicus, but I'm rather speechless except to say "to each our own".

Larry - Regarding being hard to blow, it may be time for a leak test. On a new instrument (or overhaul) pads and corks settle in over a period of months and often leave a trace of leakage. A leak is like having a big of cotton stuffed under a guitar string. It causes resistance to the oscillation.

If the entire range of the horn is stuffy or requires high pressure, then the leak is high on the horn.

Testing methods have been described in this network and are also described in some good YT videos. My favorite method of locating a leak is to use a cheap modified stethoscope, as described in a posting here.
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: LarryS on December 20, 2020, 09:31:04 AM
I think its just a case of  me and my weak untrained embouchure, and comparing clarinet playing to recorder playing.
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: LarryS on December 20, 2020, 09:32:33 AM
Btw windy I sent you email
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: windydankoff on December 20, 2020, 11:02:03 AM
Nevertheless, Larry, every player regardless of the age and quality of the horn, should do a simple leak test that takes a few seconds. If it's tight, go forth with confidence that your problems lie elsewhere!

If it's not tight, address it, or your spinning your wheels.

Leaks occur at pads, but also at tenon corks, occasionally, if one is too loose or out-of-round.

Leakage may interfere with playing pp (pianissimo, quiet) more than forte.
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: TMHeimer on December 20, 2020, 06:17:46 PM
Clarinet is often not a joy to play. It often feels like trying to force water out of a long garden hose.
It does come with a lot of built in problems, even though the first 7-8 left hand notes you learn make it about the easiest instrument to start on. Reeds mainly, and mouthpieces, and as mentioned good maintenance. I used to tell my beginners (on all instruments) to "become freinds with your instrument".
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: LarryS on December 21, 2020, 04:54:32 AM
Its still easier to play than recorder, fingering wise anyway.
And because of the rings its easier to gliss notes and do rolls. That's why if I get a flute I would prefer one with open holes
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: windydankoff on December 21, 2020, 10:51:54 AM
Back to diaphragm pressure ("breath support"), here's my observation as I play loud to soft – I start with strong support in the abdominal core. As I relax that tension slightly, the volume drops – BUT I must sense how much pressure drop creates a low volume. It may be that I drop 20% of the pressure to get a quiet tone. Or 50% or more. That depends on the resistance of the instrument. I learn to vary the pressure within that range.

You must meet the demand of the instrument for breath pressure, even when playing quietly. You learn to correlate your pressure range to the dynamic range as you do loud-soft exercises.
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: windydankoff on December 27, 2020, 09:49:18 AM
Also Larry, ref. to your comment "because of the rings its easier to gliss notes and do rolls. That's why if I get a flute I would prefer one with open holes" ... I've played open-hole flute since the 70's. I spent daily sessions for many months working on glissando coordination to play blues. There are severe limitations to what you can do. As you slide off a hole, the sound dies for most of the slide. You need to slowly lift the key as you slide, and get it just right. And then, there are only 5 half-step intervals that offer this possibility. So in the end, I abandoned that technique in favor of other techniques. Primarily I bend flat using breath control and occasionally rolling the hole closer to the lips. Lots of chromatic scale practice gives me flexibility as well.

I also spent years making my own keyless wooden flutes ... but NOTHING in the way of flutes comes close to the expressive flexibility of the clarinet (except various ethnic flutes, but the are not fully chromatic). "Irish" flutes (classic 19th century conical flutes) give more flexibility too, more like your recorder. Rejoice!
Title: Re: Is there a trick to playing quietly ?
Post by: LarryS on December 27, 2020, 10:58:25 AM
Clarinet is often not a joy to play. It often feels like trying to force water out of a long garden hose.

Air should flow right out of the horn. Is your clarinet in top playing condition?

A good reed is joy to play.
Its 3 years old and I have a very good reed.