Altissimo Register

Equipment

  • Clarinet: no wobbling between joints, pads seal well and pad heights are correct
  • Mouthpiece: a professional quality mouthpiece, which costs between $50 and $150. Feel free to ask me for advice.
  • Reeds: Vandoren, Vandoren V12, Vandoren German Cut, Grand Concert, Zonda or Olivieri depending on the facing specifications of your mouthpiece and the tone quality that you want

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Embouchure

  • Develop a "pointed chin" embouchure so you can control the force of the bottom lip against the reed. Use a mirror to check your chin position. Roll your bottom lip over your bottom teeth  the normal amount (most of the fleshy portion) and put a finger against the front surface of your top teeth. Stretch your top lip against your upper gum and then push your finger down and off the teeth with the top lip. This action will put the chin muscles in correct position.
  • Experiment to find optimal amount of mouthpiece and reed in your mouth.
  • Play with the pressure point of the bottom lip on the slightly thicker, stiffer portion of the reed by taking minutely more reed into your mouth. Do this by slightly rocking your bottom lip down the reed. The pace between your top and bottom teeth will widen.
  • Be aware if you are biting (don't do it!) on the reed. For best tone quality use only enough jaw pressure to prevent the note from being flat and to hold the mouthpiece steady.

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Tongue and Throat Position

  • In general, when playing the clarinet place your tongue in a high position (say "EEE") with the sides of your tongue against your gums or teeth in the top back of your mouth, making a narrow passageway between your tongue and the roof of your 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 the pressure point of the bottom lip on the 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.
  • The tip of the 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.
  • Play chromatically ascending long tones.
  • Slowly practice one octave chromatic scales progressing higher and higher.
  • Extend the range of your scale and arpeggio practice.
  • Play altissimo passages one octave lower to confirm you are playing the correct altissimo notes (also listen for intonation).
  • Play consecutive altissimo notes with the 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 Polovtsian 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 The 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#.
 
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Special Use Fingerings

These fingerings are the least complicated alternate fingerings and, used in combination with the standard fingerings, will be sufficient for most music. Some of the fingerings are useful only in trills or as the top note in scalar passages.

  • 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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Greg Barrett

Contact

Gregory Barrett
NIU School of Music
1425 W. Lincoln Highway
DeKalb, IL 60115
815-753-8004
gregbarrett@niu.edu