Northern Illinois University

Greg Barrett

Altissimo Register

Equipment

Embouchure for Altissimo

Tongue and Throat Position Work in Conjunction with Embouchure

How to Practice Altissimo

Resources

Selected Standard Repertoire Using Altissimo

Standard Fingerings for Chromatic Scale to c'''

Special Use Fingerings

Equipment

  • Clarinet in good working order: no wobbling between joints, pads seal well, pad heights correct.
  • Mouthpiece: replace stock instrument mouthpiece with professional quality mouthpiece: $50-$150.
  • Reeds: If still using beginner style reed such as Rico or La Voz switch to Vandoren, Vandoren V12, Vandoren German Cut, Grand Concert, Zonda, or Olivieri depending on facing specifications of your mouthpiece and the tonal quality (timbre) that you want.

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Embouchure for Altissimo

  • Develop "pointed chin" embouchure so that you can control the force of the bottom lip against the reed.  Use mirror to check chin position. If unsure what it should look like or how it should feel, roll bottom lip over bottom teeth normal amount (most of the fleshy portion) and put a finger against the front surface of your top teeth.  Stretch top lip against upper gum and then push finger down and off teeth with top lip. This action will put chin muscles in correct position.
  • Embouchure awareness is essential.
  • Experiment to find optimal amount of mouthpiece and reed in mouth.
  • In general for altissimo, play with pressure point of the bottom lip on a slightly thicker, stiffer portion of the reed by taking minutely more reed into mouth. Accomplish this by slightly rocking bottom lip down reed. Space between top and bottom teeth will widen.
  • Be aware if you are biting (don't do it!) on the reed. For best tone quality in altissimo use only enough jaw pressure to prevent note from being flat and to hold mouthpiece steady.

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Tongue and Throat Position Work in Conjunction with Embouchure

  • In general, when playing the clarinet place tongue in a high position (say "EEE") with sides of tongue against gums or teeth in top back of mouth making a narrow passageway between tongue and roof of mouth. Blow cold, fast air like blowing out a candle.
  • For altissimo use a slightly more open throat (say "ahhhh" a little bit). Exception: When differentiating between notes e" and a", using RH Eb/Ab key for both, use "EEE" throat position for a", with pressure point of bottom lip on reed a little closer to the tip than normal. Practice alternating between e" and a" using the same fingering (LH: T,R,2,3. RH: Eb key) for both.
  • Tip of tongue is used gently for articulation.

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How to Practice Altissimo

  • Practice slowly and listen carefully.
  • Use an electronic tuner to train your ear, lip, and throat when working in altissimo!
  • Chromatically ascend playing long tones.
  • Slowly practice one octave chromatic scales progressing higher and higher.
  • Extend the range of scale and arpeggio practice.
  • Play altissimo passage one octave lower to check that your are playing the correct altissimo notes.  (Also listen for intonation).
  • Play consecutive altissimo notes with most logical and uncomplicated fingerings that  work well together.
  • Invent your own fingerings.
  • Play flute and violin music.
  • Play contemporary music.
  • Listen to recordings that use altissimo.

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Resources

  • Drushler, Paul.  The Altissimo Register: A Partial Approach.  Rochester, NY: SHALL-u-mo, 1978.
  • Ridenour, Thomas.  Clarinet fingerings, A comprehensive guide for the performer and educator.  Kenosha, Wisconsin: Leblanc Corporation, 1986.

Selected Standard Repertoire Using Altissimo

Solo and Chamber Works
Bartók  Contrasts for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano
Berg Vier Stücke
Bernstein  Sonata
Brahms Sonatas, Trio, and Quintet
Copland  Concerto
Debussy  Premiere Rhapsodie
Finzi Five Bagatelles
Martino  Set for Unaccompanied Clarinet
Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time
Mozart Concerto
Muczynski Time Pieces
Nielsen Concerto
Poulenc Sonata
Rosza Sonatine
Stravinsky  Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet
Weber  Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

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Orchestral Works
Beethoven Symphony No. 8
Borodin Polovetsian Dances
Brahms  Symphony No. 3
Dvorak New World Symphony
Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies Nos. 2 & 3
Moussorgsky Night on Bald Mountain
Prokofiev Classical Symphony
Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio Espagnol
Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade
Shostakovitch Symphony No. 5
Sibelius Symphony No. 4
Strauss Don Juan
Strauss Till Eulenspiegel
Stravinsky Firebird
Stravinsky Petrouchka
Tchaikowsky Nutcracker
Tchaikowsky Symphony No. 6
Wagner Siegfried Idyll

And many, many, many more contemporary pieces.

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Standard Fingerings for Chromatic Scale to c'''

  • T = thumb hole key
  • R = register key
  • g# key = opened with left hand first finger
  • a key = opened with left hand first finger
  • 6x = right hand sliver key

c"   R  -            c#" R   -               d"  R   -            d#"  R   -             e"   R   -
       T  -                       T   2                      T   2                      T   2                      T   2
                                                                                         3                            3
            -                            4                            4                           4                             -
            -                            5                             -                            -                            -
            -                            -                              -                           6x                          -
                                                                   ab/eb                     ab/eb                   ab/eb
                                                                                                                           Omit ab/eb
                                                                                                                           key if too sharp.
 

                                                         


                 (g#)
f"    R     -              f#" R    -                 g"  R  1             g"   R   -        g"   R   1         g"   R   1
        T     2                       T    2                        T   -                      T   2                T    -                   T    -
                3 c#/g#                    -                              -                           -                                              3
                -                               -                             4                           4                      4                         4
                -                               -                             5                           5                      5                          -
             (6x)                          (6x)                           -                            -                      -                          6
           ab/eb                      ab/eb                       ab/eb                    ab/eb              ab/eb                   ab/eb
  Add g# key or              Add 6x if
   6x if too flat.                too flat.         



 
 
 

                                                                          a key
g#"  R    -              a"    R   -             a#" R   -                 b"   R  1                   c'''  R  1
         T     2                      T   2                      T   2                         T   2                           T   -
                 3   f#/c#                                          3                                                             -
                 4                            -                            -                              4                                4
                 -                             -                            -                              5                                -
                 -                             -                            -                               -                                -
                                          f#/c#                      f#/c#                         f#/c#                        f#/c#
                                 Use ab/eb key           Use g# key               ab/eb key               ab/eb key
                                 instead of f#/c#          instead of a key       may be used          may be used
                                 if too sharp.                if pitch too sharp.    instead of  f#/c#.    instead of  f#/c#.
 
 

Special Use Fingerings

These fingerings are the least complicated alternate fingerings and used in combination with the standard fingerings will be sufficient in most music. Some of the fingerings are useful only in trills or as the top note in scaler passages.  Very advanced players will want to experiment further and consult other sources.

  • T = thumb hole key
  • R = register key
    g# key = opened with left hand first finger
  • a key = opened with left hand first finger
  • sk 1 = right hand bottom side key
  • sk 2 = right hand 2nd from bottom side key
  • sk 3 = right hand 3rd from bottom side key
  • 6x = right hand sliver key


                                                                    g# key
c#"   R 1            c#" R   1              c#"  R  1            c#"   -   1         c#"   R   -
          -   2                     T   -                         T   -                      -   -                      T   -
                           sk3                                                           -               sk2      -
              4                           -                              -                           -               sk1      -
              5                           -                              -                           -                           -
              6                           -                              -                           -                           -
          ab/eb


d"    R  1             d"   -   -              d"  R   -
          -   2                       -   -                      T    -
                                                      sk3      -
              4                           -                             -
              -                            -                             -
              6                           -                             -
          ab/eb              (lip up pitch)



                                                                       g# key                  a key                               g# key
d#"  R  -            d#"  R   -             d#"  -   -               d#"  R  -                          e" R   1
         T  2                       T   2                       -   -                          T  2                                        2
                                                                 -                               3                                        3
              -                             -                            -                              4                                         -
              -                             5                           -                              5                                         -
              6                            -                            -                              -                                          -
          ab/eb                    ab/eb               (lip up pitch)                                                 Add e/b key for
                  darker timbre.


f"   R   1              f" R   -              f#"  R  1         f#"  R   1         f#"   R   -
       T    2                     T   2                       T   2                    T   2                     T   2
             3 c#/g#                                   sk1                            -                sk1     3
             4                           4                             -                          4                          -
             5                           -                              -                          5                          -
             6                           -                              -                          6                          -
                                     ab/eb               (ab/eb optional)          ab/eb                   ab/eb



g"  R  1          g"  R   -               g#"  R   -             g#"  R  -             g#" R   -          g#" R   -      g#" R   -
       T   -                  T   2                         T   2                       T  -                       T   -                   T   2                T   2
                          sk1                               3                            -                    sk1  -                                             -
            -                        -                               4                           4                            -                         -                      4
            -                        -                                -                           -                             -                        5                      -
            -                        -                                6                          -                             -                         -                      -
    (ab/eb                    ab/eb                       f#/c#                     f#/c#                     ab/eb                 ab/eb              ab/eb
    optional)


                                                a key
a#"  -   -                          b"  R   -
         -   -                                        -
                                                   -
              -                                       -
              -                                       -
              -                                       -
          ab/eb                              ab/eb
                                                   or
                                                 f#/c#

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