Episode 11: Tools of the trade-Clarinet
Synopsis: Part two of a two-part episode. In this episode, I talk about some of the tools I use as a clarinetist. Including a metronome. How on earth did I forget to mention that in this episode?
Episode 11: Tools of the Trade – Clarinet
Hello and welcome to Tonal Diversions. I’m your host, Lori Archer Sutherland, and this is my journey as a multifaceted musician. I’m a composer, clarinetist and more who is navigating the world of is classical music, and I’d love to share my adventures with you.
Next up are tools that I use in my clarinet playing. I won’t go into a ton of detail here simply because what works for me won’t necessarily work for you and vice versa. Clarinet gear is so dependent on each individual person, but you may find something that you’d like to try out for yourself.
Reeds, Ligatures, and Mouthpieces
Beyond the clarinet itself. The thing that’s going to vary the most are your reeds, your ligatures, and your mouthpieces. And usually those are the first things that people change, as opposed to changing their instrument when they want to try to get a different sound, or improve their sound or whatnot.
For reeds, it’s Légère, hands down for me. I started using them not long after they appeared on the scene, and at this point it would take some pretty good convincing to get me to switch back to cane. For my B-flat clarinet, I love the European Signature, and for my bass, I actually prefer just the regular Signature. I love that they actually have true contrabass reeds because those are wider than bari sax reeds and they fit the mouthpiece I use. Plus, they don’t warp. I hated having to spend $50 or more on a box of five good contra reeds that were probably going to warp because I didn’t play contra nearly enough to keep the reeds in shape. At this point, there are a lot more options about keeping your reeds from warping. And there are a lot easier tools to use for that, as opposed to what we would cobble together previously. But still, that’s not enough to convince me to go back to cane.
The good and the bad about Légère is that they last for a really long time. And it’s great because because when you look at just a single reed price, yes, Légère cost a lot more than a cane reed. However, you get so much more use out of each of those reeds. But because they last so long, it can be easy to kind of forget when you started using them and then realize that you’ve been using the same reed for way too long. And that happened to me recently. I was having a really wretched practice session one day, and I started just thinking about how long I’ve had that particular reed, and I realized it was a long time. So I bought new reeds, and I have been much happier. So they do wear out eventually, but you’ll get your money’s worth out of it.
Ligatures are another thing that clarinet players just seem to love to buy and test out. The primary purpose of a ligature is to simply keep the reed on the mouthpiece. There’s so many different styles of ligature, and there’s a ton of different materials. If you really need to, you can use a shoelace, and there is an old clarinet book out there that pretty much says the shoelace is the only good signature. I disagree, simply because I’ve used a shoelace before and having to wrap it around the mouthpiece each time is just a pain. Over the years, I’ve had good success with Rovner ligatures, and they make them for pretty much any instrument you need them for. They’re easy to find, they’re not horribly expensive, and they do the job and they work well with Légère reeds.
For my B-flat, I did switch to an Eddie Daniels gold ligature. Those are really new on the scene, and they had a special price for music educators, and I jumped on it. And you got a pack of the three different materials. I’m using the gold ligature, and that’s the one I’ve liked the most so far. I personally didn’t love the carbon fiber ligature, but I ended up selling that one to a student and he loves it. So just like I said earlier, it’s so dependent on the individual. There’s also a blue one that I haven’t played as much yet, and I need to bring that back out and just spend some time with it. I like that these also are working with Légères. There are some ligatures that they just don’t work with Légère reeds for various reasons.
If you really want to get into some ligature stuff, go check out Michael Lowenstern’s video on ligatures. It’s great because he does typical ligatures, and then he starts pulling random stuff out from around his house like a rubber band and a shoelace and other things. It’s pretty entertaining.
Mouthpieces are the other part of that trio of reeds, literatures and mouthpieces that are so independent to each person. And again, what I like isn’t what everybody likes, but you know, sometimes it’s just nice to hear what other people play on. For B-flat, I’ve gone through several different mouthpieces over the years, and I’m still settling on my ultimate favorite mouthpiece, which I haven’t found yet. Right now, I’m playing on a D’Addario Reserve Evolution marble mouthpiece, the EV10, and I’ve really liked it. The mouthpiece I was using before isn’t being made anymore. It was made just for a short time, and part of the reason I thought about looking for different mouthpieces is just because what if I needed one? I couldn’t buy the one that I’ve been using.
I have a Backun mouthpiece that honestly, I can’t remember which model it is at the moment, and I got that in one of their sales and I just need to play around with it some more. I like it, but I think it doesn’t like the specific reeds I’ve been using, so I would need to just kind of fiddle around with that and try out a couple of different reeds to see if I can get it to respond differently. I know a lot of folks love Backun and I’ve heard really good things about their Vocalise line.
I will say it’s really easy to fall into the gear trap of wanting to try a lot of different things. I’ll admit I love trying things out because you never know what might catch your fancy and be the “Oh yeah, this is the mouthpiece that I love.” The catch is balancing wanting to try things versus how much money you want to spend versus whether your current setup is actually rather good and you don’t need to mess with it.
For bass clarinet, I’ve used a Walter Grabner CXBZ mouthpiece since shortly after I bought my instrument, and so that’s close to 20 years now. I don’t think he makes that model anymore, but he keeps track of serial numbers and I’m pretty sure I could call him up and ask him to make another with the same specs that I have right now. Fortunately, I have not had to do that.
One day, I may try a few different brands simply for the sake of research and have things for my own students to try out, but I’m just not there yet. With that said, I’ve heard good things about the Vandoren Black Diamond line, and I look forward to trying those eventually.
One of my pandemic purchases in 2020 was my Holy Grail of a bass clarinet case. Wiseman Cases out of the UK was having a sale and we decided to jump on it. I bought a carbon fiber bass clarinet case. By my calculations, it shaved 5 pounds off of my load. It’s compact, it will fit my B-flat, A and E-flat clarinets as well as my bass if I want it to, and it’s sturdier for traveling.
The company was great to work with. After I placed my order, they contacted me and asked me all about what I was going to put in the case so that they could make sure that things would fit. They were awesome to work with. I would recommend them. They will make a case for whatever you want. They are expensive and they’re coming from the UK, which depending on the exchange rate if you’re in the US or might not be pretty at that point, but so far this case has been totally worth it.
On a side note, I’ve heard really good things about the Reed and Squeak cases, and I gotta say I love their name. I eventually want a double case for my B-flat and A and I am looking into Reed and Squeak for that one, but that’s for a later date. I’m usually playing either B-flat or bass and so I just don’t have a strong need for a new double case yet.
Next up are tuners. Tuners are an important tool for any instrumentalist. We really need to have a tuner no matter who you are or how long you’ve been playing, or what wind or brass or even string instrument you play, you need a tuner. The good news is that with cell phones there are a ton of free apps out there, and so you really have no excuse not to have a tuner.
Me and a lot of other people I know we like TE Tuner. It’s hard not to like a tuner that gives you a smiley or frowny face to show you whether you’re in tune. My favorite is the little purple face yhat kind of has a “Hmmm?” expression going on when it can’t figure out what in the world you’re trying to do.
I’ve also liked Snark Tuners. They work on vibrations from being clipped to your instrument, and that is so handy when you’re in an ensemble setting because sometimes you can’t hear yourself, your tuner can’t hear you because of all the other noise that’s going on. The catch is using them with bigger wind instruments. I’ve tried using it on my contralto clarinet, and it’s a struggle to figure out where to clip it, where 1) it will stay attached, and 2) I can still see it.
And I should also give a mention to Korg. Korg tuners have been around for a long time and they’re still very good tuners, and you can find some reasonably priced ones.
And the last couple of things I’d like to talk about our Mobile Sheets and Air Turn foot pedals. More and more musicians are using a tablet such as my aforementioned Surface Pro to store sheet music. As with anything, there are pros and cons, but I’ve loved using mine.
For reading and displaying the sheet music, I use MobileSheets. This app was made for musicians, as opposed to a general PDF reader, which might still get the job done. And you can find free versions. But I find it was so worth paying for MobileSheets and I think it was only $10 or so. It was not all that expensive. It lets you create set lists, you can tell it how to organize pages (which is really helpful for repeats), you can write on and highlight passages and a ton of other stuff. I know there’s at least one competitor out there, but I’ve enjoyed MobileSheets and haven’t had a reason to try anything else out.
I also use the Air Turn Duo foot pedal. While you can use your finger to tap MobileSheets to turn the page, I just love having a foot pedal and it makes things so much easier. And honestly, that’s the only thing I use the foot pedal for, even though I know you can do more with it, especially if you’re into performing with looping software and stuff like that. I know there’s a ton of stuff you can use the pedal for with that. I have MobileSheets set up so that when a song has a repeat, I tell it to do, say like page one and two, and then page one and two again. And this way I can just forward pedal through the whole piece. Because honestly, I don’t trust myself to backpedal during a concert.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this miniseries on tools of the trade. I would love to hear from you about what you use and find interesting, even if it’s not specifically for composition or clarinet, any music related software or gear or whatever. Please feel free to reach out to me. I’d love to hear from you. Until next time.
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A selection of my music on YouTube
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SoundCorset (metronome app that I forgot to mention!)
Snark Tuner (Amazon affiliate)