Artist Insights featuring Paulo Gaspar

Clarinet teaching in the 21st century

More than a century after the start of one of the most important musical phenomena of the last century and several decades after the emergence of works exploring the so-called “extended techniques”, jazz and modern music have been integrated consistently into traditional teaching. But unconventional techniques are often overlooked.

Although the different areas are now combined in the same school, albeit in separate courses, I know many jazz musicians who reach out to their classical music teachers of their instrument to improve their technique, and musicians of symphonic orchestras who came to find in jazz a means to improve their classical performance. The advantages are clear for both, as there is a lot of classical repertoire with jazz influences, a phenomenon also known as the third stream. Specialization will naturally exist, but more comprehensive knowledge provides individual tools for the better performance of each particular activity.

In addition to individual needs, it will be up to teaching in the 21st century to incorporate all of these issues, to prepare new clarinettists for the challenges of the past and meet the progress of the future. Although “extended techniques” are not used in older music, they will be an asset in preparing the musicians of the future. We cannot allow new clarinettists to be limited as to their repertoire because they don't master some of these techniques.

The correct placement of wind instruments involves combining different openings of the throat, with several positions of the tongue, using the various vowels. Essentially, we can consider more open vowels for bass and more closed vowels for treble. As we know, the mastery of abdominal breathing is essential to play wind instruments and regarding clarinet, sound, timbre, dynamics and articulation directly depend on the airspeed in conjunction with the many positions of the tongue and a set of phenomena widely known as the mouthpiece. For example, circular breathing can be very useful in very long sections, such as Concert no. 1 by Louis Spohr, and is also essential in some modern works.

The practical use of theoretical content covered in disciplines such as harmony, auditory training, musical analysis or reading at first sight (with and without transposition), allows you to develop habits in the practice of the instrument which are so important in the daily life of a musician. These practices make it possible to convey knowledge of the instrument to optimise performance, allowing better use of the ear and develop memory, an essential tool to play, for example, Harlekin für Klarinette by Karlheinz Stockhausen, since, in addition to the approach of other performative areas, the clarinet player will have to memorize about 60 minutes of music.

Improvisation is extremely linked to jazz, however, this practice was there in classical music until classicism, having been abandoned during the 19th century, although the pace of classical concerts enables soloists to improvise during the performance, as it was customary at the time. The truth is that few soloists do this currently. Are schools providing their students with the necessary tools for such practice?

While in jazz dozens of scales and arpeggios are studied, which we can find in written music, in general only the major scales and the relative minor harmonics and melodies are studied in traditional teaching. For example, we can find the mixolydian and doric modes in Première Rhapsodie pour Clarinette en Sib et Piano by Claude Debussy, which can be studied separately, taking into account the manner how intervals are established. Also Time Pieces for Clarinet and Piano Op. 43 by Robert Muczynski was composed based on the octatonic scales MTMT and TMTM (M=½ Tone and TTone=) and so therefore, in-depth study will render the performance of this work easier.

It would be a clear advantage too to practice the fundamental state in isolation, 1st and 2nd inversions of the three-note arpeggios (triads), just like in the pace of the Aaron Copland Concerto, where we can find major triads in descending sequence, in whole tones. And also in the fundamental state, 1st, 2nd and 3rd inversions of the seventh arpeggios (quatriads), given that each of the inversions and fundamental state have their sound. For example, in the Concert for Clarinet and Orchestra K. 622 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart we can find, in the three movements, triads in the fundamental state, 1st and 2nd inversions, as well as seventh arpeggios of the prevailing in the fundamental state and 3rd inversion.

The modern repertoire depends on the greater or lesser use of the throat to produce a large number of effects such as multiphonic, vibrato, flap lip, bend and glissando, which marks the famous beginning of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. There is naturally an interaction of the throat with the different positions and different actions of the tongue in coordination with the airflow to perform staccato, tongue ram, slap and flatterzunge. Always aware of the fact that the tongue further at the back facilitates the upper harmonics and further to the front facilitates the lower harmonics. The use of the throat is also essential for the production of the sound and voice effect. This can have a harmonic objective (the clarinet produces a sound and the voice the other), but this interaction also allows the production of growl (a kind of distortion).

The sound and air effect allows us to improve the relationship between the mouthpiece pressure, in combination with the airspeed, thus being able to play the sub tone, an effect the clarinet is asked to play when he joins a jazz orchestra. We can also add effects such as sound and keys or timbre trills. As for the quarter tones, they will have to be produced using special strumming, although there are already instruments prepared for this purpose.

Clarinettists should be able to play a bit of every instrument of this great group of instruments and I would like to add that the practice of the different saxophones can add knowledge thus improving clarinet playing. In addition to opening the possibility of combining clarinet and saxophone in one of the many classical works with this particular requirement or in a jazz orchestra, where this challenge is common.

With the increase in distance work, the use of the microphone becomes even more important. In addition to being essential in the performance of many works with electronics, it will be relevant when an instrumentalist plays in an amplified concert or when he is called to engaging in a recording. Why not promoting a meeting between musicians and students of music technology courses to deepen this area?

The fact that the same musician sounds in a similar fashion with a different instrument, allows us to conclude that the way the whole process before the instrument is worked on has a major influence on the sound produced. I believe that the knowledge and practice as regards the techniques and ideas presented here are an effective contribution to the development of future clarinettists, and even if they don't use these extended techniques in their daily individual activity, they are there to improve the mastery of clarinet playing, rendering the specific performance of the clarinettist in the 21st century more effective.

Paulo Gaspar

Graduated from Escola Superior de Música of Lisbon, he pursued his master's degree at “Universidade Nova” of Lisbon and in 2011 completed his PhD in Music and Musicology at the University of Évora. He has taught in several conservatories and is frequently invited to conduct clarinet and jazz introduction masterclasses. He is currently a teacher at the “Escola de Jazz Luiz Villas-Boas” (Hot Clube of Portugal), Superior National Academy Orchestra and in “Escola Superior de Música of Lisbon”.

Throughout his career he has developed a very diverse activity ranging from classical music to jazz. He has recorded and collaborated with important Portuguese musicians and most of the national classical and jazz orchestras. He has been a soloist with the “Banda da Armada” since 1989 and clarinetist with the Dixie Gang since 1991. He is one of the founding members of the Lisbon Underground Music Ensemble and he is a member of the Hot Clube de Portugal Jazz Orchestra.