Friday, November 26, 2010

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.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

How to clean a mouthpiece

Got a text from Erika asking about how to clean a mouthpiece. First off, you should dry your mouthpiece regularly (like every time you practice) but you should NEVER run a swab through it. At least not regularly.

There are two reasons to clean a mouthpiece, and they take two slightly different approaches:

Reason #1: It's disgusting inside. Gunk, reed nastiness, and other whatnot has collected in there, usually by the inside of the mouthpiece rails. While I usually don't let it get that bad, sometimes I forget (gross, but true). So, to clean this, I usually fill a cup with 1/2 Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) and 1/2 water. I'd bed you probably have some H2O2 in your house, but I also bet it's old. It loses its potency, and it's cheap to replace, so if it's old, replace it from your local pharmacy. Anyway, soak your mouthpiece in that for about 15 minutes. It'll bubble something fierce, which is the H2O2's reaction to the bacteria in your mouthpiece. Afterwards, roll up some kleenex (no aloe- or lotion-infused kleenex, please) and run it through the inside of the mouthpiece to clean it. Get in the corners with a Q-tip if needed.

Reason #2: It's got lots of calcium caked onto the beak of it. That white stuff around where your mouth goes? It's not gonna come off with H2O2. But it will come off with a little weak acid. I take lemon juice and mix it 1/2 and 1/2 with water (if you don't have lemon juice, use white vinegar, but dilute it a little more). Soak the mouthpiece in that for 10 minutes or so, and then rub with a cloth or kleenex on the build-up. It should come off with a little elbow grease :)

Again, NEVER use a swab inside your mouthpiece unless you're looking for an excuse to get a new one.

Hope this helps Erika!