Why did you choose the clarinet?

Interview with Prof. Francois Benda, University of the Arts Berlin, Music Academy of the City of Basel

The interview with François Benda was conducted and transcribed by Heinrich Matzener on July 1, 2015 on the occasion of the soloist concerts in the Casino Basel.

Didactic canon

HM: How do you work with the students on the basic technology?

Individual requirements and choice of instrument

FB: For the time being it seems important to me that every clarinetist finds his own sound and his own position. And that is also very physical. That's why I believe that as a teacher you can't just say in general: "Ok, I play like that. There is my mouthpiece, [that fits with these reeds] and you have to use the same material. If you don't play this material, then you are not my student and you can go home. " I think that is not right.

For years I have been teaching basic technology and looking for suitable material. Because there are things that the basic technology simply does not solve. There are things that are instrumental: the instrument has a hook, or the question arises: which hook does the instrument have [and which problems can be solved with a good basic technique]? And then I try to eradicate it by asking myself: "What can you do with the choice of mouthpiece? What can you do with the bell to eliminate certain problems of the instrument or at least to improve them?" I can't separate the material from the sound [and the basic technique].

That's one thing that goes together. And I think if I have something that works for me, I'm happy. Many colleagues then apply this to all students. But - this is not a reproach, everyone has to find their method - one should take into account that the choice of instrument is a very personal matter.

Then there is also a direct interaction between the individually different pressure conditions, the individually designed air flow and the instrument [the mouthpiece and the reeds] that the person plays. You have to watch yourself and ask yourself: "What pressure do I have and what material can I play?" Someone like me, who is two meters tall and has a lung volume of nine liters, cannot offer [a petite young woman] the same material that I play. That does not work! That means: For me everything belongs together and I've been researching there for years. This is my area.

Sound quality and homogeneity

HM: You must have a sound ideal ...

FB: The timbre should move within certain aesthetic limits: too dark, i.e. dull, is just as unsuitable as too light, i.e. sharp. There are different lovely Sounds. I just can't tell bright and dark. For me the sound has to be homogeneous. I try to get to a point with the material and the way of blowing, where depth and height are homogeneous. For me this is the one A thing [the most important thing]. Without it, I won't go any further.

For me there is no such thing as THE sound ideal. Every student sounds a little different. One plays a Selmer recital, the other a Buffet Tosca, that makes a big difference. Then you have to find the material that suits the different instruments and the players. And it is important that the sound is homogeneous in itself. It is important that the air noise in the sound is minimized as much as possible. There is always a noise component in the sound, there is no clarinet sound without a noise component. If someone comes and says, "I have a completely noiseless sound," then something is wrong. There is the component of air resistance that cannot be removed. But the less noise I have in the sound, the better I can convert my air flow into real sound. This gives me the chance to create a really nice, round, plastic and flexible clay. My way of working goes in this direction.

Most of them have the problem that the instrument sounds airy at the bottom and the sound has no center and is pointed and too direct at the top. That's usually what you experience. But you don't really want that. You want to achieve homogeneity so that I can then determine, depending on the musical situation, how I want to shape something sonically. And that's a balance, it's like walking a tightrope. If you go a little too far to the left, you'll fall off the rock and if you go a little to the right, you'll fall again. That means there is this path for everyone, but really everyone, which is very narrow but fits within certain limits. You go a tick to the left, a tick to the right and it doesn't fit again.

And therein lies the great individual work: I do it with the students in such a way that I observe where the pluses and where the minuses are. There are people who have an incredibly good approach, others have great support. You try to stamp out what doesn't work. But then I try to see how far I can influence that without taking too much away from the player's personality. That means weeding out what is not so good without losing what is already good. The same applies to the instrument, the mouthpiece and the reed.

Four segments of the basic technology

HM: Do you require the students to work with a daily recording program, or do you work out the basic parameters of the technology by studying literature?

FB: For me, technology has four segments that you have to work on separately. Each segment can in turn be fanned out. You have to work on these sub-segments in detail. The four segments are:

  • Air flow
  • approach
  • articulation
  • Finger technique

I try to separate these four segments very precisely and to master them individually. In order to understand how a point is knitted, I have to break it down into the individual segments of the technique. These segments, which run at the same time and side by side, must also function independently of one another, like in a team of four: the first is responsible for the air flow, the second for the approach, the third for the articulation and the fourth takes care of the Finger technique. If I can master the elements individually, I can put them together and play a part much better. [But the whole thing is like a pyramid: The basis is the air flow, based on this, the approach, articulation and finally the finger technique follow. You have to think and act like four people at the same time. In reality you are all rolled into one.]

Segment 1: air flow

FB: By air flow I mean everything I do with air: inhale, exhale, create pressure and build and control support capacity. When teaching, I control all of these aspects of air flow for individual students, because without them you have no real control over the sound and intonation. Only when I notice that my breathing is working do I prefer to listen to the other exercises.


It begins with inhalation: many clarinetists, including those in orchestras, position the diaphragm inward when inhaling, like a singer. Many have this idea of ​​being like a singer. But I think that doesn't work for us [clarinetists] because we work with pressure. The singer works mainly with resonances.

HM: Do you do exercises without the instrument to train air flow, inhalation and breathing support?

Exercises without the instrument

We do exercises to spread the lower ribs apart like an accordion: when inhaling, they separate, when exhaling, they come together again. Or that you sit down on the carpet like a Muslim praying to Allah, lean forward and inhale. While sitting, bring your chest to your thighs and inhale. Then you can only breathe in properly. Or like in yoga or tai chi: I imagine that my upper body is a balloon that fills and opens from bottom to top. Then I really create a tension from inside to outside from all sides. If I then imitate, for example, a trumpet approach and exhale, the necessary pressure is created.

Exhalation as pressure and sound generation

There are many views on how to inhale properly. But I think that for many clarinetists the basic problem lies in the correct exhalation. The sound is produced with the exhalation.

We work with air pressure and resonances, whereby the pressure is in the foreground and the resonances come second.

Tension curve during inhalation and exhalation

HM: Where would you put more tension: on inhalation or exhalation?

FB: When you're not playing the clarinet, the exhalation is relaxation and the inhalation is tension. When you play the clarinet, it's the other way around. Exhaling is associated with more tension.

Support tension

FB: Exhaling that is associated with generating pressure cannot be relaxation. You have to transfer this tension that you created when you inhale as lightly as possible [into the exhalation phase]. One cannot speak of relaxation. You are only relaxed in the moment you breathe in.

HM: You've talked a lot about balance when it's difficult to keep your balance, like on a boat or a bus. Would that be like the tension we have to create when we produce a sound?

FB: Yes, exactly. I think that is very important. Since many do not take in enough energy when they breathe in, you notice it here [palms the loins with your palms], in your back and in your spine. If I take air from here [full breathing, which combines chest and diaphragmatic breathing], a stretching tension can be felt. When you breathe out you must not collapse too quickly [as with natural breathing], but try to slowly get rid of this tension, as in tai chi.

Exercise without the instrument: swimming

FB: What I recommend to my students: swimming! I was asthmatic and didn't want to be a musician or clarinetist right from the start. But when I was young, playing the clarinet was therapy for me.
Now when I notice that people have breathing problems, I send them to swim. I explain to them how to swim: As slowly as possible in freestyle [Crowl], after three draws, inhale once left and once right. When you have your face in the water, you have to bring the air out evenly, just like when playing the clarinet. A trumpet neck can be formed to imitate the pressure on the neck. Many are in a state of panic at this moment. These degrade, and once you've done that, you can swim longer. You have to breathe in slowly and then breathe out without the air piling up at the top. That is exactly the problem for many. But when they do swim training, that usually doesn't happen anymore. When swimming you also move, you need energy and you always have to blow into the water regularly. And that is very similar when playing the clarinet.

... transferred to the instrument

If you do this exercise with the triads or fifth octaves (see exercises for tone formation) - you sometimes play long [phrases], twenty or even thirty seconds - you can train everything again [inhalation and exhalation, air flow and breathing support]. I think that's a very good thing.

Segment 2: Approach

BF: When the first segment is up, I'll try to work on segment number 2, the approach. Without the balance between air flow, breathing support and neck, neither tension nor flexibility can arise in the air column. I learned that while playing the Viennese clarinet. Here you can't move or change the attachment as much because the mouthpiece opening is so small. This is actually a big advantage when practicing. Working in music is always about tension and flexibility. These are always the two elements that play against each other. That makes the music beautiful, without [these tensions] it wouldn't make sense.
I have to develop a flexible but stable approach. I am working very specifically on how this approach should be [structured]. I have a role model in the approach to how this has to be easy, but of course I look at what the student's teeth are like. Depending on the position of the lower and upper jaw, of course everything changes, it influences the search for material, etc.

Neck shaping

FB: I'm trying to shape a stable approach that actually works for almost anything:

  1. I cock my chin down.
  2. I achieve hold at the base by centering the lips from all sides towards the middle. I then try to keep it as stable as possible.

Stable approach, with different formants and flexible air flow

There are two things that need to be flexible:

  1. The air flow, that means how I control the air pressure.
  2. The area of ​​the throat, the inside of the mouth and the tongue.

The approach remains constant.
Depending on the pitch, I need great flexibility and agility in the formation of the formants, which, however, do not affect the starting position. Big jumps aren't a problem at all because I have a [working] approach. There are other schools, e.g. represented by Charles Neidich, who works a lot with the angle of attack of the clarinet. It can be an advantage here and there, but changing the angle of attack brings great instability in the sound. I think you can use the formants "u" "a" "ä" "ö" "ü" "i" to achieve the same control over high and low registers.
If I change the position of the tongue [while creating different formants], e.g. take a much higher position, this results in a much faster [almost hissing] air jet. I also have to exhale harder. I don't have to change the approach at all. So it is possible to play high registers without increasing the pressure.

bottom lip

FB: I'm trying to make the lower lip act as a separate muscle like a shock absorber. With a car you need shock absorbers that compensate for the unevenness [of the road]. I show my students what happens when you pull your lips too far over your teeth, as in the old school: You have no way of compensating for differences in pressure. Legato play is not possible with jumps, there is an accent [or a gap] with every tone connection.
As I said: this is a component. I try to keep the approach as stable as possible and hardly move it. My advanced students hardly move the approach when playing up or down. You have this compact approach.

Position of the lower jaw

FB: I think an approach where the lower jaw goes too far back is problematic. I try to play a little "front-chin-heavy" so that the top and bottom teeth tend to be on the same line. So you have a better control [with the faster air flow through appropriate tongue position in all register positions]. You don't have to overdo it, otherwise you will get pressure in your larynx.

Balance between application pressure and breathing support

HM: Then there will be a balance between application pressure and breathing support?

FB: When I see that a student has problems because of excessive pressure and [too high] air speed, I give him a mouthpiece with a very narrow orbit and Viennese leaves for a few weeks over the holidays and say: "Try to play the [mouthpiece]. " He has to do everything with the air [and with the formants]. If he pushes too much in the beginning, nothing works.

Exercises for tone formation

HM: Can you sketch a tone-making exercise? Do you do the messa di voce exercise or do you work with scales?

FB: I do a lot with scales and triads. I always let them play at very slow tempos first in order to work out the homogeneity.

Triads up and down, ascending chromatically

FB: For example, I play triads as slow triplets from the root up to the double octave and down again e.g. twice in one key - an exercise that singers often do. I took it over from my teacher Bela Kovacs because I learned a lot from it myself. We start at the bottom with E major and then go up chromatically to F major, F sharp major, etc. so that everything, not just a single key, works. I don't think working according to the circle of fifths is so good for the technique: When I finally get to B major, C major doesn't work again.
Or I let them only play fifths - octaves in slow eighth notes: Do - o - o - o - u - o - ü - i.

Musical goal: homogeneous play in all registers

FB: The exercise starts with inhaling. Then the note is played. Care must be taken that the first note sounds good from the start. This quality has to be taken over for the whole exercise.

Technical implementation: Working with formants

FB: To make it sound good in all registers, you have to work with formants. I cannot achieve homogeneity if I play with the same formants in all registers.If I play with "a" at the bottom and "a" at the top, it doesn't sound good. I try to turn that around: the deeper I play, the more centered I try to form the formant. At the bottom it's more like “ä”, further up I come to “ö”. This change in the shape and position of the tongue must be practiced so that one can use it consciously. First, this must be mastered in legato:
||: da ˘ a ˘ a | ˘ a ˘ o ˘ ö | ˘ i ˘ ö ˘ o | ˘ a ˘ a ˘ a ˘: ||
If you can do that, do the same in staccato.
||: da ˘ ta ˘ ta | ˘ ta ˘ to ˘ tö | ˘ ti ˘ tö ˘ to | ˘ ta ˘ ta ˘ ta ˘: ||
Then wider:
||: da ˘ da ˘ da | ˘ da ˘ do ˘ dö | ˘ di ˘ dö ˘ do | ˘ da ˘ da ˘ da ˘: ||
Then even shorter, etc. But always in the same quality, so that the notes are of the same length. I'm incredibly picky about that. I think I have to have the instrument under control, i.e. I have to be able to determine when the note starts and when it ends and not the reed or the day or whatever. This is a very important point for me, and I work on it very systematically with the students.

High and low registers, vowels and air speed

FB: And it needs more air pressure, i.e. faster air in the lower register and a little slower air in the upper register. Speed ​​is also a point: Depending on the vowel, "e", "ä" or "a", the air flows at a higher or lower speed. When I open my throat, as with "a", the air has to flow more slowly. With a vowel like "e" it flows faster, i.e. I have to blow differently so that the same type of sound is created depending on the position. I try to work this out very consistently with the students.

Segment 3: articulation

If the first two segments don't work, I don't even need to start with the third. When articulating, only the tongue moves without affecting the embouchure. I use the different possibilities of the tongue shape and tongue movement. I'm trying to explain that all of these elements have to work independently.


HM: Can you say something about the shape and position of the tongue at the moment the sound starts? Is there an ideal shape and point where the tongue should touch the leaf?

Tip of the tongue to the tip of the leaf

FB: I find that the positioning of the tongue depends on the player. There are very many people, like me, who have very large and broad tongues and those who have short tongues. In order to master the articulation - again, a stable air flow and a stable attachment are required - the tip of the tongue should touch the tip of the blade where the vibration is strongest. Not below, because doing so would result in an unclear, indistinct articulation. I can't stop the notes with my tongue like that either. It's an important thing for me.

The start and end of the note are determined by the tongue

FB: Many don't do that, but I use my tongue to articulate and stop the tone, like the horn players: “düüüd”. When the tongue touches the leaf, however, the air flow continues. If I play with a [small articulation] pause between the notes: "bom bom bom" [sings triad], the air flow does exactly the same as in legato: "doo-oo-oo". The constancy of the air flow is really very important. If each separated note has its own air accent, it will also get a different resonance, and then it will not work well.
It's different with the bassoon, it always needs new resonance to play the notes and you have to play like this: "bo bo bo" [relieves the air flow]. But with the clarinet, you can achieve very good control with tongue articulation alone. I also try to do that very precisely.

Continuous air flow over the pauses: phrase creation

FB: Why do I have to keep applying constant pressure when I play a (shorter) pause between the notes by touching the reed with my tongue? Because then I can form a musical phrase over the break. This only works if the tongue really touches the tip of the reed, otherwise the sound will not be interrupted. How? Further down, the air always comes through somewhere between the reed and the mouthpiece and lets the reed continue to vibrate. When the tongue touches the tip of the reed there is no more sound development.

Air flow and approach “before” articulation

FB: The articulation is pure tongue work, combined with this constant flow of air that I try to form beforehand. To do this, I do special exercises, some of which I have invented myself, some of which I have adopted from well-known schools. The aim is to let the articulation become independent.
There are many schools, such as the Baermann School, which in my opinion start too early with the combined tasks, such as the articulation of four sixteenths with two bound and two jointed notes. What is happening? The air flow is not stable and moves in the rhythm of eighths. You can't get a clean articulation that way. There is always an emphasis on the first note, or the second note under the legato slur is not exactly as short as the first of the articulated notes, because there is no stability between the beginning and the air flow.
I have a lot of exercises for articulation. I also try to sensitize the students to vary the ways in which they can articulate the tongue. Starting with the different consonants, the soft “d”, the English “the” etc. Like a string player who has various options for differentiating the articulations with the bow.
And we do that with the same exercises that I do for tone formation. First everything in legato, making sure that the air flow and approach work. If that works, I'll work with point 3, with the articulation. That goes relatively quickly. If someone comes and is already playing quite well, they don't say: “Stop! We don't make music anymore! ”But I draw your attention to the issue and I am very adamant about this. I notice that this leads to success: the sound and articulation become more homogeneous.
I also try to familiarize students with the acoustic problems and benefits of the clarinet. I cannot articulate everything in the same way when I play jumps: The lower notes have to be articulated more clearly than the upper ones. The lower notes should be a little shorter, the upper notes a little longer. When I have a run, the difference is smaller between one tone hole and the other, or a semitone or a whole tone difference, I try to make these things very clear so that they work on it. And we do that every day.

Articulation variability

FB: The point where the reed touches the tongue depends a bit on the player and also the type of articulation you want to create. A very soft, light articulation, a "non legato détaché", needs an articulation that is performed more at the tip of the tongue, similar to the English "the". When I need a very concise articulation, I think of it - in contrast to before (as with the violin at the tip of the bow) - to articulate more on the frog of the bow, i.e. the reed is more likely to be touched with the back of the tongue. This corresponds to the syllable "tú". We have an example of this type of articulation in the cat theme in "Peter and the Wolf". When I have to play a very short slap, the whole back of the tongue touches the leaf. This is the most extreme staccato we have. This shows that the difference between almost legato ("the-the-the") and a slap is that the point of contact between the tongue and the leaf has to be changed accordingly. And then I work with the students to make them aware of how exactly they interrupt the vibration of the leaf with their tongue. Is it "tü-tü-tü" or "dü-dü-dü" or, combined with legato "di ˘ a ta-ta" or "di ˘ a tha-tha". We work with different consonants and lengths so that tongue control is better.

Individual physiology influences tongue articulation

FB: As I said: Basically, the tip of the tongue should be at the tip of the leaf. But that has to be adjusted individually. That would be impossible for me, because then I would have to bring my whole tongue backwards so that the tip could touch the very front of the leaf. I only do that with staccato leggiero, "the-the-the". As soon as the staccato is supposed to be shorter, I articulate further back on the back of the tongue. If staccato doesn't work for the students, I ask where the tongue touches the reed and recommend that they touch the reed with another part of the tongue.

Address and angle of attack

FB: With some students, because the position of the tongue does not allow otherwise, you have to change the angle of attack so that the tongue reaches the tip of the blade and closes. There is no other way for many. So I also start from the attitude, which is a very important thing for me. Usually I say that the instrument should form an angle of 45 ° to the body. I'm not pedantic, but a 35 ° to 55 ° angle allows the reed to be in a convenient position for articulation with the tongue.

Tooth position, angle of attack and articulation

FB: The position of the teeth also plays a role: Most people have the upper row of teeth slightly in front of the lower row, although there are stronger or less pronounced characteristics here. And there are people in whom the two front rows of teeth are on the same line. Or those in which the lower teeth are a little further forward than the upper teeth. These people need a larger angle of attack when playing, the people with a "cover bite" have to take the clarinet much closer to their body in order to be able to blow a note reliably, otherwise nothing works.

General posture

HM: What do you look for in general posture? It's very good with both of the soloists we heard. I can imagine that you worked on this with these students as well.

Retirement means energy

FB: The first student had a tendency to tilt the upper body backwards. This can cause the sound to radiate well, but it is unfavorable for the breathing support. The second student prefers to play while sitting, when standing he tends to tip forward and accordingly we are looking for stability here as well. I start working on general posture by looking for the resting posture. But this hibernation does not mean “being lazy”. Resting means energy.

Exercises without an instrument

General posture when seated

FB: When I sit, like in yoga, I have to pay attention to where I am really in balance without tilting forwards or backwards. There is a point where the body is in balance. And you have to look for it.
One can imagine that the human being would have a tail in the continuation of the spine, with which he supported himself when sitting on the chair. That prevents a hollow cross. It's not supposed to be like a dog pulling in its tail and putting it between its legs. Then you would sit there with a rounded back, completely sunken.
An angle of 90 ° between thigh and upper body is ideal. Depending on your height, you have to sit higher or lower.

General posture when standing

FB: I associate that with the breathing technique: When you breathe in, you have to hollow the energy into the body from below, like in Tai Chi. For a good inhalation I need the correct posture (see above). You have to fill the body with energy, i.e. with air from the bottom up. To do this, the knees have to be bent slightly forward, just like when skiing. It's like driving a bus. If I stand with my legs straight and the bus suddenly stops or goes into a curve, I immediately lose my balance and fall. The feet should be at the same height (not one foot further in front than the other) and not too far apart. A broad stance (as with Sabine Meyer) gives stability, but appears stiff. It is important that I am in a positively tense situation when I am at rest.

Segment 4: finger technique

HM: What is important in finger technique? What should you watch out for with the right and left hand, what with the thumbs of the right and left hand?

FB: Finger technology is the fourth segment of basic technology. It can only function properly if the two segments, air ducting and attachment, function well and are well coordinated.

Posture of the hands

FB: When it comes to finger technique, the position of the hand is an important thing. When I let my arm fall loosely and watch the hand, all of the joints are in a natural, loose position.

Individual differences

FB: This picture is individual, different from person to person. One has rounder, the other a little more stretched, some a little longer, others a little shorter. It's always a little different. If you transfer this position to the instrument, you will find a natural posture.
I always say to my students, “Don't copy the posture of my right hand! It is very big and the clarinet seems very narrow in it. I can't round my fingers, otherwise I won't be able to comfortably cover the tone holes. A piece of wood, which I glue to the clarinet by the thumb rest, would help. The diameter of the clarinet would then be larger, so the instrument would fit better in my hand. When I play the saxophone or bass clarinet, I have a natural, perfect posture. I believe that the clarinet could be improved from an ergonomic point of view, or adapted to the individual requirements of the player.

Exercises with the instrument

Position of the hand and the individual joints

FB: For example, you let your left arm drop and your hand very loosely and then put the instrument [horizontally] in your hand with your right hand. When you then bring the instrument to the normal playing position, you have the most natural hand position. We shouldn't bend the finger joints as much as when playing the oboe, but neither should we stretch them completely.

Left hand flexibility

FB: With their left hand, many students make an angle of 90 ° with their fingers to the instrument. There is a problem: The top flaps, a1 and g sharp1 and the Duodezim key must be able to be reached in a very flexible way. Many students are on the handle c1 so stuck that they, in order to ab1 to be able to play always have to jump away with your fingers. You don't have a flexible transition between the different handle combinations.
I then make the comparison to drinking from a glass: Here you have to turn your hand slightly from your forearm in order to be able to tilt the glass towards your mouth. If you transfer that to the clarinet, I can do a c1 and at the same time turn my hand a little so that I touch the A-key with my index finger without opening the lower tone holes. The second and third fingers continue to touch the instrument as support fingers, but must not be stressed or tense.

"End of game" hand positions left and right

FB: When I take hold of the small g, my hands should remain flexible enough that I can simultaneously hold the a on the left1, g sharp1 and the overblow valve can grip. On the right, I should be able to operate at least the two side keys without having to open the other tone holes. With this natural hand position, all grip combinations can be carried out.

Adjusting flaps

FB: There is a situation where the instrument really doesn't fit the hands well. I then had the instrument maker change various things in order to adapt the instrument to the hand. If the fingers are small, the flaps are c2 and it2 Too far apart. You can do it2-Let the flap be extended and thus solve the problem. It's the other way around for me. I intervene c2 and immediately I already have the G sharp2 seized. My hands are too big. I had my clarinet set up by René Hagmann. I think you have to consider such changes, but that always needs a personal assessment.

The sequence of movements of the fingers

FB: Many have a tendency to rattle their fingers or hit the keys and tone holes, especially when moving downwards. At the same time, the fingers move too far away from the instrument when moving upwards. Pictures help to do this: try not to move your fingers like a galloping horse, try to imitate the movements of a cat.
As an exercise, I let the finger movement while playing upwards split into a slow and a fast phase. When playing downwards in a fast and in a slow one. That is the goal: to move the fingers quickly at the beginning and slowly just before closing the tone hole. Like a cat: you move quickly, but just before the paw hits the ground, the movement naturally slows down. Then I have looseness and precision. It takes both.
I do a lot of exercises with this sequence of movements. For example, working out the scales in the fifth space, ascending chromatically: |: c-d-e-f-g-f-e-d: ||: des-es-f-ges-as-ges-f-es: | Etc.
The musical goal is a legato without accents, the technical implementation trains round, even finger movements without percussive effects.

Individual dispositions

FB: But you also have to acknowledge that there are individually different sequences of movements. I had a student from Brazil whose movements were very large and clumsy. His former teacher had always corrected him, but that only made him more and more tense. I also recommended that this student hone his finger technique, but to no avail. Then I observed his everyday movements and found that everything happened with very energetic and large movements. There are limits to pedagogy: the student must keep his naturalness. I just tried to slow down his finger movements just before touching the instrument. The movements have always remained large, but have become freer. He was good at playing. You have to acknowledge that and not be too pedantic.
With small movements I have more control, but you have to adapt it to the individual. That's why I never followed any schools or teaching materials in class. I've always looked at what kind of person I have in front of me. That’s a little part of it.


FB: There are people who have a natural, very fast trill. This is not a matter of course, especially with the fourth finger, as the physiological requirement (only one tendon for the third and fourth finger) makes fast movement somewhat more difficult. I try to solve this with a tremolo, like on the piano with octaves. The movement of the fourth finger is then guided from the forearm. I slowly let the student try this out too. The fourth finger should rise without the third and fourth fingers opening the tone hole. That can then be increased progressively at a fast pace. I do it this way because I cannot produce a quick trill by moving the metacarpophalangeal joint. There is a passage in Elektra, a very long trill on d2. This can be solved much better with this technique. It is an advantage to be able to use this tremolo technique. Trilling from the metatarsophalangeal joint is much more difficult. I try to integrate things like that, but first the basic technique has to be available. If you only know how to help yourself with help, then you are missing a solid basic technique.

Holding work of the right hand

HM: The right thumb does a difficult job. He has to hold the instrument and nevertheless the looseness of the finger movements must not be restricted. Do you have a tip if someone is very tense from holding the weight and has very stretched fingers? Do you work with your thumb first?

Game aids

Individual placement of the thumb rest

FB: The placement of the thumb comes last for me. First the natural hand position has to be achieved (see above). If the fingers are now stretched by holding the thumb, then I unscrew the thumb rest and try to determine the ideal individual position of the thumb. There is the possibility to attach the thumb rest accordingly. That doesn't break a clarinet. I noticed straight away that the original position of the thumb holder did not fit. He was way too far down. As a test, I unscrewed and turned the thumb rest. That was a bit uncomfortable because the thumb is now not touching the wood, but the metal of the thumb rest. But I noticed that I felt a lot freer. I then had the thumb rest screwed on further up.
There is a problem with this: Usually the thumb rest is placed where the instrument is balanced on the right thumb. If the pivot point is higher up, a torque is created which exerts a little more pressure on the upper teeth. But you have a leeway. First you should see if you can find a good posture with the normally set instrument. If not, changes are in order. Then you have to check whether the weight distribution is still within the given framework.

Relief of the right thumb

FB: You have to find a natural position for the right hand, that's very important. There are of course problems that arise from practicing too long. When I was younger, I practiced too much, and then I got an over-leg in the thumb joint. I was in great pain, but didn't want to exercise less. Then I thought about it and put a pen on the thumb rest of my clarinet and then I took a piano string and bent it like a spring. So I could support the clarinet on my upper body. In addition to this, I hung the clarinet on the thumb rest with a strap, a device like a brace. This enabled me to carry the weight of the clarinet without putting any strain on my right thumb or neck. This is an elastic device that relieves the strain on the right thumb when practicing. For the concerts I was able to play with the normal holding work without any problems. I think it's important to make adjustments like this when needed because everyone has a different body.
It all plays together. I try to look at the individual elements separately and work them out in order to then bring them together. This is my method.

Acoustic optimizations

FB: My aim is to create optimal physical properties of the instrument according to the individual physiological requirements, which optimize the playing comfort and at the same time the acoustic results. If the low E doesn't sound full and round, I'll experiment with the cup. I went even further and am working on the development of an instrument that a) is right and b) whose sound in the low register is compact and not too airy. I looked for it for years, tried it and finally found it. I deal with these things. I really enjoy playing my normal clarinet because it suits me. But it does not suit many people because it is adapted to my very individual needs and physical requirements. I have very big fingers. When I play the F on a normal clarinet, I use the c sharp1- flap with. I then have to change and adapt accordingly.

Clarinet tradition and school

FB: I grew up in a family of musicians in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Everyone in our family made music. My father was a well-known pianist, and I was the first in three hundred years of family history to choose a wind instrument. As a kid I was asthmatic. Sao Paolo is a city with heavy air pollution. I came to an anthroposophic doctor who said I should play a wind instrument, it would help to free this tightness. From the age of seven to nine I played the recorder on it. When I was nine, the doctor said the recorder was too small for me, I had to play another wind instrument. My father said: “You play the recorder, then play the flute. That makes sense."
He had founded a chamber music ensemble, and the first piece they had rehearsed was the Messiaen Quartet. I could barely read music, but I leafed through the rehearsals. I was totally enchanted by the clarinet. My father then went on a concert tour and was gone for almost six months. During this time I contacted Leonardo Rigi - he was principal clarinetist at La Scala before the war. He had lost all four brothers in the war, was afraid and emigrated to Sao Paolo. He played the typical Milanese Morali school, a Pomarico mouthpiece, etc. He lent me an instrument. I didn't learn according to a certain method, he said: "Play this clarinet, after two or three months you will come back and I'll show you a few fingerings." My father came back from his concert tour and heard these tones, he has them Opened the door and said:

Father: "What are you doing there?"

François: "I play the clarinet."

V: “But why do you play the clarinet? We have agreed that you will play the flute. "

Q: "I think the clarinet is great."

V: "No, that is out of the question."

Q: "Why not?"

V: "The clarinet is not an instrument."

Q: "Why?"

V: "An instrument that you can't play Bach on is not an instrument."
Today I think that he was right somewhere. Since we have no baroque music in our repertoire, we as clarinetists are missing an important stylistic epoch in music history. It's something that limits us a bit. He then sent me to Aurel Nicolet to hear him. But there was nothing to be done. I had already worked a lot with the clarinet and he had to accept that. The teacher in Sao Paolo only did technique with me. All studies: Cavallini, Gabucci. Never a piece. My mother told the teacher that I should just play a piece. Then he came with the Mozart Concerto, in a terrible Ricordi edition! After working so much technique, I was able to play that too.
I had this teacher until I was 15, 16 years old. Then I switched, but that didn't really help either. We then moved to Europe and in Geneva I [https://www.youtube.com/watch? v = xCwj_nAB3xI & list = RDxCwj_nAB3xI # t = 84 Thomas Friedli] played. He wanted me as a student right away. But I felt that this wasn't right for me. Thomas was a typical Lancelot student. Everything was built from the start. I thought this might be very good for others, but not for me. Because of my illness, breathing exercises were the be-all and end-all for me, I had breathing pretty well under control at the age of 17. Then I went to Graz, where my father had a professorship. But I was not accepted because I was playing the wrong system. That was very clear at the time: with a French clarinet you had no place in an Austrian music academy. Especially in the provinces like Graz. That made me change the system. That was a whole new experience. I got to know a lot of things there, from the way of playing to the completely different concept of sound production. At that time the Austrian clarinet sounded very different from the French. Documented by Leopold Wlach [see also Mozart, clarinet quintet KV 581, first movement Allegro, Leopold Wlach], a great example of the Austrian school. I had a teacher in Graz who no longer played. He was previously principal clarinet at the Graz Opera, but did not play any notes in class. It was still very interesting, he was a good musician and was able to teach me his technique of air guidance very well, where you don't have to work so much with the approach. I had to adapt my technique, change the way I played it a lot so that it sounded good on the Austrian clarinet. It was then that only two of the twelve or thirteen students in the class sounded good. With the others way too much air came out, it just “hissed”, as they say in Austria. One reason for this was that you had to make the leaves yourself. It's difficult, the leaves were often too strong. Half a day has been spent preparing the leaves.
So I went to this school. I think that was important to me. I got to know a lot of fingerings and a new instrument. And that's when I started to be interested in old, romantic instruments: Hoptan and Hammerschmidt, from that time. Back then I bought a lot of old instruments, e.g. at the flea market, and invested a lot of time in them.
Then I realized that I didn't have a chance in Austria. I came to Switzerland, took part in a competition and played a lot of temporary jobs in Geneva. There I also tried Wurlitzer clarinets with the Hammerschmidt system, but soon sold the instruments again. Then I “built” an instrument with René Hagmann. That was an old buffet that he provided with a large hole for me. It's one of a kind that I play to this day. I have also always dealt with valve technology.
I got a professorship in Weimar early on. There it was an advantage that I had dealt with the different systems with different instruments and mouthpieces. I had also seen that you can learn from all the top orchestras that all follow a special school, be it the Leipzig, Vienna or Dresden school. I cannot be clearly assigned to a school myself. The search for a very full, round and velvety tone shaped me from the Austrian school. I try to do that, but not so extreme that it becomes dull. It still has to sound brilliant. The search for homogeneity also comes from the Austrian school. Thomas Brandhofer was a great role model when he was still playing in Vienna. It came from the Wlach School and had an almost horn-like sound. When he played in Berlin, he changed the sound a little. With me everything was always a bit mixed up.

HM: You have acquired a great deal of flexibility by playing all kinds of clarinet systems. That is certainly a great benefit.

FB: Yes, I recommend everyone to play a German clarinet once in a while. Even if that doesn't appeal to you. Just knowing what you don't want is very important. You open up, you become a little more flexible. When I hear: "You have to play with B40 and 3 1/2 hands", I get a crisis. It has to carry, it has to convince and it has to be right. What use is it to me if the intonation is wrong?
The French bore is approx. 14.65 mm in diameter, with various modifications in its course. The Vienna borehole has a diameter of 14.50 or 14.51 mm. With this hole you have to work a lot more with formants, otherwise you are in the upper position, at h2and c2, at least 1/6 tone too high! With the Buffet Prestige you are too deep with the same type of blowing.

HM: In order to achieve the sound, do you recommend broadening the hole?

FB: Yeah. But that's a tricky thing. If I just take a buffet and continue drilling, I have to correct every single tone hole. René Hagmann did this work with me. We took an old Buffet B20 from 1972, widened the bore to 14.90 mm and then tuned it tone for tone. We tried different sleeves on the duodecimal flap, we built a special blow-over mechanism on it. It was months of work. For René Hagmann it was a research project, for me a clarinet emerged that I liked a lot and that I stayed with. I came very close to the Viennese sound, but the intonation is better, there were no tones that did not sound pure. Jochen Seggelke has managed to design the tone holes in such a way that the mood is much better. His clarinets are very beautiful, but there are also a few notes that you have to touch up with the way you blow them.
I love my job. Working with people who have a goal. I can't think of anything else.



The procedure for auditions in America follows exactly the reverse order as we know it in Europe: In America you play the orchestral parts first. They are usually selected according to different parameters, e.g. a staccato passage (e.g. Mendelssohn's Scherzo, Smetana Sold Bride, Rossini Barbiere), a passage for phrase design (e.g. Verdi, La forza del destino) and a passage for a clear speech ( like Beethoven 6.). On the basis of these points, the quality of the clarinet playing can be assessed objectively, i.e. without placing subjective interpretive claims in the foreground. If the candidate has a good speech, he has the necessary ease in staccato. He can phrase, he plays rhythmically stable, has a nice legato and a balanced, flexible sound and the intonation is okay. Only in the second or third round do you let Mozart play and also test the quality of the interaction and you can see here whether a candidate could fit into your own ranks stylistically. Two or three candidates are then usually selected who are invited to a trial, i.e. they can also prove their skills and specific aptitude for the position in practice.


In Europe we have to play Mozart in the first round. I made two important experiences: In Amsterdam, at the audition for the Conertgebouw Orchestra, I played very enthusiastically and was in the final. 1997 in Zurich, Opera House, I was eliminated after the first round with the same style of play.
For me this means that in an audition the limits of the musical and stylistic design have to be drawn very tightly. In order to meet all the requirements of a jury, these limits must not be exceeded. It is all the more important, with these restrictions, to exhaust everything that is possible in terms of design, dynamic, agogic and articulatory. That's why I teach a Mozart who is different from my personal concert version: There must be no musical experiments, but the game must still be dynamic, lively and musical.Even with regard to the intonation, the differences between the audition, where we are accompanied by the piano, and the situation with the orchestra have to be taken into account: In the orchestra you have to realize the harmonically oriented intonation; for the audition I recommend an adaptation of the tempered piano intonation for most parts.

The lines of the tennis game

Playing the clarinet in the classical-romantic repertoire, especially in an orchestra, can be compared with playing tennis: As on the tennis court, there are lines in the interpretation within the boundaries of which the "balls", which are our musical actions in music, are placed . It is of no use if I place the ball as fast and powerfully but beyond the line. It is best if I hit the line exactly.

German or French system?

The jobs in Switzerland are very well paid, the orchestras play with high quality. Accordingly, the few vacancies are highly competitive. In Eastern Europe you earn almost nothing (300 euros a month), in France you have almost no chance as a non-French, in Italy you are currently the re-advertisements for orchestral positions across the country blocked, Spain and Portugal are also struggling with financial problems.
That leaves Germany, where more than 100 professional orchestras still offer jobs. It is therefore worthwhile for young people who are determined to work towards an orchestral career to switch to the German system.

Training goal orchestral musician

Not all people are suitable for an orchestral career. However, if a student strives for this goal, I expect a highly qualified performance from the Bachelor's degree. If you can't achieve that, I advise you to reorient yourself in a different professional environment. This practice led to the fact that very good players came together in my class. A healthy, collegial atmosphere is created by competition, which I experience as very motivating and quality-enhancing. I am sorry to see that our Swiss offspring often fail the entrance exams due to major deficits in basic technique.