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Topic: Regarding a realistic clarinet part

  1. #1

    Regarding a realistic clarinet part

    Here's the story: I have a composition for percussion/drums and three voices (bass, guitar, and clarinet). There are three themes that rotate through the instruments (somewhat, slightly, quasi-fugue-like although it is not clear which theme would be considered the subject and they are all pretty simple). One of the themes consists of 24 measures of continuous 1/8th notes. The piece is in 6/8 time. There is no problem regarding this theme for the bass and the guitar but I can't imagine a clarinetist playing 24 measures of continuous 1/8th notes without a breath. GPO doesn't mind but I would like to make the piece sound realistic and be playable by live musicians.

    My questions are these: when playing such a part at a moderately brisk tempo when would a clarinetist breath and how big a rest would be required? Is this an impossible part? I like the clarinet sound in this piece but I suppose I could try it with violin or viola if necessary.

    I thought of splitting the measures between say clarinet and flute but I suspect that if I do that the piece will start to want a more elaborate orchestration.

    Any advice is welcome.

  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    NW Illinois

    Re: Regarding a realistic clarinet part

    Read this post by DPDAN:


    He covers exactly what you're asking about.


  3. #3

    Re: Regarding a realistic clarinet part

    My guess is no, but it depends on tempo, slurs, what the other instruments are doing, etc.

    Can you post a score sample of the part?

    Note that some professional clarinettists can circular breathe and hold out notes indefinately. Not very common, though, and should never be relied on by a composer unless he is writing for a specific performer that can do this well.
    Jess Hendricks
    DMA Student and Teaching Asst in Music Theory/ Composition at the University of Miami
    Personal Website

  4. #4

    Re: Regarding a realistic clarinet part

    One must also consider phrasing in composition. Melodies require "breaths" as well. Unless the tempo is extremely fast, a 24 bar phrase is very, very long. Typically phrases won't go much higher than 10 - 12 bars in common time. Most are in the 4 - 6 bar range. 24 bars might be akin to a run-on sentence.

    But, I must reserve judgement until I see the score.
    Jess Hendricks
    DMA Student and Teaching Asst in Music Theory/ Composition at the University of Miami
    Personal Website

  5. #5

    Re: Regarding a realistic clarinet part

    JT: Thanks for the link. A very pragmatic approach that sounds feasible for many situations. I'll try it for this one.

    Jess Hendricks: The theme in question is a simple shuffle feel bass part that each instrument takes a turn with. The other two themes have a sort of dialogue while the shuffle theme provides structure. I like the idea of melodies requiring breath. I'd post some of the piece in one form or another but I haven't figured out how to set up a linkable website without having to turn off my security and privacy settings (Earthlink requires Javascript).

    Thanks for the thoughts.

  6. #6

    Re: Regarding a realistic clarinet part


    Speaking as a (former) session musician whose main instrument is clarinet, I must say that 24 bars (measures) of quavers (1/8th notes) in 6/8 time doesn't sound like much fun.

    Like Jess, I'd like to look at the part. But, very generally speaking if the notes are in a comfortable range and the tempo is about dotted-crotchet = 80 or so, then four bar phrases to a breath should be easy enough. If you could make the last note of each phrase a crotchet (1/4 note) then that would help enormously with the breathing. Otherwise, if the part is played by two clarinets the breathing can be staggered.

    I'm sorry this is only very vague advice, but without seeing the part it's a little difficult. Anyway, I hope it helps. Good luck with the piece.


  7. #7

    Re: Regarding a realistic clarinet part

    I'm a bassoonist, but I might be able to help.
    I dont' know about clarinets, but bassoons' reeds have such a small opening that only a small amount of air (in comparison to brass or flutes) can get through. When we brethe (again, I'm not a clarinetest) we have to exhale and then inhale in whatever time we have. Remember, we've gotta have our oxygen!
    For a quick catch breath, a stacatto eigth note here and there would be enough, 'cause we need more air to brethe than to play.

    Hope this helps!

  8. #8

    Re: Regarding a realistic clarinet part

    David: At the risk of making the part sound even less fun it can be viewed as the bass part of a 24-bar blues form that over 2 measures goes E, E, G, A, A, B, D, D, B, A, A, G. Depending on the position in the chord structure that pattern is rooted in E, A, or B. Considered in isolation this is the least interesting theme. It may be most fruitful to think of the three voices together consisting of one composite theme. In any case, once the 24-bar pattern repeats once (I, IV, I, V, IV, I, IV) the (composite} theme is developed. Theme fragments are extended, transposed, truncated, inverted, shuffled about, and instruments switch voices. Pretty rudimentary in the context of the quality of the composers that frequent this site. It is in some of those switches that the pattern in question is inflicted on the clarinet player. Some of the passages are shorter than others but there is one complete repetition. In 6/8 at a tempo of 120 would Chris's idea about stacatto eighth notes work? Although I haven't tried it, I think the third note in the virtual triplets could be stacatto most if not all of the time. If not I guess performance would require 2 clarinet players or a switch in instruments.

    Chris: Thank you for your thoughts. I have been doing midi-compositions for years but have just recently been inspired by the example of the kind and talented people at this forum to consider the possibility of having my pieces performed by real musicians. And I definately want everyone to have fun and get enough oxygen.

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