Monday, October 19, 2009

The First Days of Playing My Clarinet

By Judith D. Burke

Our 4th grade class was invited to attend our High School Band concert as part of their recruitment program for beginning players. I was very excited to go to my first concert of any kind. Watching and listening to the older students playing instruments was one of the most intriguing experiences of my lifetime at that point in time. The sounds and blends of each of the instruments were amazing.

As each individual instrument played to demonstrate their tone color and quality, I tried to imagine playing each of the instruments. The clarinet really caught my attention. The tone color, quality, versatility and look of the instrument were very pleasing to me.

At that first lesson, special attention was given to the correct clarinet EMBOUCHURE shape. I needed to have a mirror by my practice station to view my embouchure formation often. Since I seemed to have a natural shape occurring right away, it was not a too difficult to eventually do it without looking at it each time.

After several lessons, it was apparent that there were other things needed to do to make that wonderful tone quality happen. The REED needed to be wet so that it would vibrate properly. After several accidental crunches and bumps on my teeth, the reed was rendered not playable. Since I only had one reed, I still tried to wet it and place it on the mouthpiece with my usual care, but it would not work at all. I had no idea they would be so fragile and important to the tone of the clarinet. The reed needed to be wet and whole to work properly.

After investing in a box of reeds, I was still reminded to be careful with each reed. They would not last forever even if they did not crack or break. There was a lifespan for each reed. Our teacher recommended a reed strength for each of us in the class. He explained that if a reed was too hard we would not be able to produce a good sound and if it was too soft we would be squeaking more than usual.

Wetting the reed and careful placement on the mouthpiece would allow for a good sound to happen, but I still needed to use enough air. More attention was needed to breath properly and fully so that the sound would project. I was used to normal breathing – slow inhaling, fast exhaling – but now I needed to learn to do the opposite. Fast inhaling and slow exhaling felt foreign at first. After running out of air before the ends of phrases, it was clear that I needed plan ahead on more air intake.

Harnessing the Raspberry

By Dr. William S. Ciabattari

A raspberry is a derisive or contemptuous sound made by vibrating the extended tongue and the lips while exhaling. If I could describe how it sounds in text, it could be something like, “pfzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt.” Ah, I bet you are hearing it in your mind’s eye as you read. Perhaps you are dressing your computer screen with the raspberry’s fireworks because you couldn’t resist the temptation. It’s not a pretty sound, yet a certain type of raspberry is exactly what is needed to create the brilliant sounds on brass wind instruments. The raspberry required for playing brass instruments calls for the tongue to remain inside of the mouth (much cleaner for the rest of us) while the lips make the vibration. In essence, it requires the player to harness the raspberry.

The mechanics of making sounds on brass instruments like the trumpet, trombone, French horn, or tuba are the same. The person takes a big breath, brings the lips together in a combination pucker/frown, and then blows the air through the lips causing them to vibrate into the mouthpiece of the instrument. These vibrations are the basic sound of brass instruments. The construction of each instrument helps to determine the pitch range – trumpets and French horns make higher pitches while trombones and tubas make low pitches. Construction also helps determine the timbre – the unique voice or tone color for each instrument. So the actual instrument is a special amplification system that helps to turn an otherwise ugly sound, the raspberry, into a brilliant tone used to make music.

In our efforts to help aspiring instrumentalists to harness their raspberry, viaAcademies just rolled out beginner level courses in trumpet and trombone. The trumpet and trombone courses are filled with valuable resources that include colorful and engaging web pages, videos of real students playing, videos of professional players, demonstrations of all the basic fundamentals, and much more. And to top it all off, we have a staff of State-certified music teachers waiting to work one on one with each student. We’re ready to help you harness the raspberry.