Putting Your Best Sound Forward on the Clarinet with Eva Wasserman-Margolis

Lisa Canning • March 2023Wind Talkers • March 13, 2023

Lisa Canning: Eva Wasserman-Margolis and I got to know each other through one of the first virtual clarinet competitions that she helped organize and create: The International Clarinetist Corona Competition. It was created to help working clarinetists who had no work during the Covid-19 pandemic. As an extremely accomplished professional musician, teacher, and composer, she offers a very insightful perspective on how to make your best sound on the clarinet. I have read her books, so I decided to interview her.

LC:  Eva, what is so important as a developing player to find your best sound on the clarinet or whatever instrument you play?

Tone is your blueprint for the personal side of your playing. Before the first musical phrase you perform or produce, the concept of tone seeps into your consciousness and presents to others the first idea of what you want to create. It doesn’t matter what level you play at; the sound you make will reflect for others a great deal about your soul.

LC: How can we help students develop this awareness of the importance of creating their sound?

Everyone who produces a sound through any instrument or voice should have some type of practice method to increase awareness. The development of sound is affected by touch as well. Touch produces sound, and touch, like the development of sound, needs control. Wherever control is required, practice is needed to build awareness to realize one’s ability. If you constantly practice challenging exercises with no real   component of slow work, you cannot really “listen carefully” to what sound you are producing.

LC: Is there a practice method you favor to help support the development of your best sound?

Long tone exercises! Every student I have ever worked with had to make them an important part of their practice regime. I ensured they did them because it was always built into their lessons. Some professionals call this a “warmup,” but in our lessons, it took on a greater role and would last for up to about 15 minutes or more.

Working on long tones helps you concentrate on what sound you want to create. Long-tone exercises also help breath support by developing the capacity to hold significant amounts of air and release it more slowly and in a more controlled fashion. They teach through practice how much support is needed on each instrument or voice octave. The consistent, repetitive work of long-tone exercises allows you to mentally and physically memorize how much air it takes to finish different musical phrases.

Here are a few long-tone warm-ups from my book that help one understand how over time, you can realize progress. Each exercise should be performed very slowly, and the clarinetist should actively listen to what sound he is producing. The use of a tuner can help with intonation but should never be used all the time. Intonation is just one component to sound. In my book Thinking Tone, I write about being aware of many other fundamentals, such as projection, resonance, color, timbre, intensity, reverberation, frequencies, harmonics, overtones, distortion, and clarity.

LC: Earlier, you mentioned touch being a part of producing your best sound. I wondered if you could share with us what long-tone exercises can do to develop a better touch on the clarinet.

Long-tone exercises can help improve touch on the clarinet in various ways. Why? Slow work is what long tones are about! You hear interval movements, uneven finger movements, sloppy finger movements, and “banging” fingers when you work slowly. Sometimes coordination between articulation and movement of fingers can be far from perfect because when we use our brain, fingers, tongue, and breath, we sometimes don’t realize that we are just not playing as cleanly as we thought we were! Long tones are all about working SLOWLY! It’s all about listening more mindfully.

Eventually, when teaching students to play long tones, they will “feel” the correct airflow that is needed in each situation. Over time this will give them a natural, even airflow which will produce a consistency that other players do not have. Long-tone exercises are one of the most important components for developing a clarinetist’s sound, no matter how talented they are. What is the perfect sound? It is the ability to acquire the most knowledge possible for your personal needs and music. Perfect sound is attained through practice and instrument set-up.

LC: Eva, thank you for sharing with us the benefits of long-tone exercises and their ability to help us create our best sound. If you would like to know more about how to help your students put their best sound forward on the clarinet, consider ordering Eva’s books Thinking Tone a handbook, and Time for Tone, a book of long tone exercises. When you purchase an instrument through Lisa’s Clarinet Shop, we provide a complimentary copy. It’s a super helpful book. It will help your students fall in love with making a beautiful sound.


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