When is it you, and when is it the bass clarinet?

I got two notes from people this week that I wanted to post here as an example of when you might have trouble with your instrument, or when you just need to practice more.

First from Facebook:

Hey, i have a soo festival next thursday and all of a sudden my high notes (b-f) wont come out iif i am playing quiet. all i get are squeeks. is there anything i can do to fix it?

To which I replied:

My first stop would be a repairman. When you're playing quietly, you're not forcing as much air through the instrument. Often, when you have a leak, pushing more air through the horn will overcome that leak, but quiet playing will be a problem. I would bet that the problem lies in your F key (clarion F; top-line of the staff) isn't closing completely. One way to check this is to rotate your bass clarinet top joint so that the bridge key doesn't connect. Then try those notes again. If they come out, then the problem is in your bridge key. Other than that, someone might have to look at the horn.

When your instrument is simply not speaking a note, or squeaks all the time, it is most likely the instrument -- ESPECIALLY if it is a school bass clarinet. Having your band director look at it is a first line of defense, but even seasoned repairmen don't often see a bass clarinet, so expecting your band director to see the problem is pretty unlikely. I recommend taking the instrument to a good repair person (with your band director's blessing, of course), and then see what s/he says.

Now, to a text message I got off my site:

I'm a 9th grader and I have been playing b.c for 5 years. How can you switch smoothly from different octaves?

Well here's what I replied:

Thanks for your note. Well, I hate to say it, but the real way is by practicing a lot.

What you need to understand is that when you play an A (second space in the staff) and then play a B (third line in the staff) you are going from playing about 16 inches of bass clarinet (where the A-key hole is -- it's high up on the bass clarinet) to 3 feet of bass clarinet (where the B-key hole is). So, when you go from playing that A to playing that B, you have to get all your air all the way down to the bottom of the bass clarinet INSTANTLY! That comes from making sure you have a consistent and well supported air stream.

The way I like to think of it is blowing all the way to the bell of the bass clarinet *all the time* -- it helps when you have to make these register leaps (or, as you call it, "octave switches").


Sometimes it's hard to tell if it's you or if it's the instrument. I'll make a video soon to help tell which is which. But in the mean time, I hope this helps.