TUNING THE Bb CLARINET FOR REHEARSAL OR PERFORMANCE
by Tom Ridenour
The goal of tuning the clarinet should be two fold:
1. Tune the clarinet generally to a certain pitch level (ie. 440 or 442Hz. etc.)
2. Keep the clarinet in tune with itself as much as possible.
In order to understand how best to attain both of these goals it is necessary to understand the way the clarinet responds to changes in it's length and something about the tuning tendencies of certain areas of the clarinet.
There are two areas which are of most concern when tuning the
1. Throat tones: "G", "A", "Ab" and "Bb" on the staff
2. The long pipe, right hand clarion tones: "B","C", and "D" on the staff.
Let's look at each of these and then see how they relate to one another in the process of tuning.
The Throat Tones:
The throat tones do not react the same as the rest of the clarinet when tuning is done by pulling the barrel. The throat tones sink much lower in pitch than the rest of the clarinet as the barrel is pulled. For example, pulling the barrel a certain amount may lower most of the clarinet by 5 cents while the throat tones lower as much 10 cents from the same adjustment. The more the barrel is pulled the flatter the throat tones become in relation to the rest of the clarinet. Therefore it is not uncommon to find the throat tones are flat to the rest of the clarinet if excessive pulling of the barrel is required.
In addition, the higher pitched the clarinet is the more drastically the tuning of the throat tones are affected by pulling the barrel to get the clarinet down to pitch. For example, the Bb clarinet is more affected than the A clarinet, the C clarinet is more affected than the Bb, and the Eb soprano is more affected than the C.
The Clarion Tones:
The long pipe clarion tones we mentioned tend to be sharp notes on most clarinets. Among these naturally sharp tones is the third space "C" (concert "Bb"); the tone which is most commonly used in tuning the clarinet. When this naturally sharp "C" is used as the tuning note the barrel needs to be pulled excessively to bring it down to pitch, and this, as we observed above, results in flat throat tones. Therefore, this method may yield an in tune "C", but cause other areas of the clarinet (and most especially the throat tones) to be terribly flat.
A better method of tuning and one which accomplishes both of our goals is as follows:
1. Tune the concert "F" (open "G") by pulling the barrel.
2. Tune the clarion concert "F" (clarion "G") by pulling the middle section.
Tuning in this way causes the clarinet to play better in tune with itself and most importantly preserves the tuning of the throat tones. The reason is that the throat tones are tuned first at the barrel, and then the clarion "G" (another tone which tends to be somewhat sharp) is tuned by pulling at the middle joint. The combination of pulling at the barrel for open "G" and at the middle joint for the clarion "G" has the effect of bringing the naturally sharp third space clarion "C" down to pitch without any further adjustment at the barrel being necessary.
The only negative consequences to be aware of, if excessive pulling of the right hand is required, is the danger of making the high "E" too low. The "E" tends to be low on most clarinets anyway and pulling the right hand lowers it even more. However, this is only a minor issue compared with the larger problems of a clarinet that is out of tune with itself in the first two registers. It is also a problem that is easily solved with the multiplicity of fingerings for high "E" which can be used.
Aside from the danger described above, the results of this method of tuning is a clarinet that is well in tune with the ensemble, which also has a clarion "C" that is in tune, throat tones which are in tune with the rest of the instrument, and a left and right hand clarion which are better in tune with each other.
This method achieves both of our goals and provides the clarinetist with a much easier time playing in tune both with himself and others.