Tips for Playing in the Clarinet Altissimo Range

The clarinet altissimo range consists of the notes starting with the C sharp above the staff. With a good embouchure, breath support, lip pressure and practice, these notes are not difficult to play.

As mentioned elsewhere on this site, the most important requirement for playing high notes is a good, basic clarinet embouchure. Without this, it is almost impossible to play in tune in the altissimo range. Refer to the Tips for Beginners page for more specific information about the clarinet embouchure.

Lots of air and firm stomach muscles are also necessary, particularly in the beginning. Many people think that pinching the lip and biting down will improve their chances of reaching a high note. However, this is not the case, and often results in cutting off the sound completely. Likewise, a very hard reed is not required, although a strength of 2½ or higher will make it easier. Start out with about ½ inch of the mouthpiece in your mouth. You'll know if you have too much in your mouth, because you'll squeak.

Finally, comes the part that most people hate to hear. The only way to get good at this is by playing long tones. Once you get the note, hold it out for at least four counts. Go in your room or the basement, shut the door, and make sure your dog is out of earshot. Practice with a tuner if you have one.

In the following exercises, the second note of each group will be fingered the same as the first note with one difference. Play the first note with lots of air, then slide the first finger of your left hand down so it is only covering half of the first ring. This will make for a smooth transition to the higher note.

When you have mastered the exercises above, try the following. In order to do this, you will start the same way, by playing the first note and then sliding the first finger of your left hand down to uncover half of the first ring. Hold each note for four counts before proceeding to the next one.

Once you have mastered these exercises, you will find that with practice you will be able to add the notes beyond high F.