Here are some of the main and most important articulation techniques for the clarinet. Explained and demonstrated by Philharmonia Orchestra's own Mark van de Weil and Michael Harris.
As with all reed instruments, clarinet articulation is controlled by the contact between the tongue and the reed. As the air is blown the reeds vibrate, if the player then moves the fingers this will produce a simple legato effect. The tongue is used to interrupt the vibration of the reed, which in turn breaks up the sound, creating shorter notes. Wind players call this process 'tonguing' and it form the basis of most of the different types of articulation on the clarinet.
Notes played without tonguing. Legato means 'smoothly'. Notated by a curved line above or below the notes. The line is called a 'slur' and indicates that the notes should be played legato, which is often called slurred. The first note in a legato group is always tongued.
Nonlegato or 'Tongued'
Each individual note tongued and separated. The technique used by clarinet players for separating the notes is called 'tonguing'. As the player blows, the tip of the tongue gently touches the underside of the reed near the tip. This is done by a very quick movement. The tongue briefly disrupts the vibration of the reed creating a slight separation between the notes.
Short and separated notes (all tongued). The notation is small dots above or below the notes. Staccato notes can be created by returning the tongue to the reed very soon after the note has begun, so cutting off the vibration of the reed. In playing the example shown (left) the movement of the tongue would be similar to saying, 'tut, tut, tut' whilst blowing, the difference is that the tongue touches the reed rather than the roof of the mouth.
Very short notes, literally translated - as short as possible. Written in two possible ways, either wedge shapes above the notes as shown (left) or sometimes ordinary staccato dots are used along with a written instruction staccatissimo. Staccatissimo technique is virtually the same as staccato. The main difference is that because the note is very short, players tend to blow a little more air through in order for the note to 'speak' clearly. This also has the effect of giving the sound more 'attack'.
Legato tonguing is very gentle tonguing - a very slight separation between the notes - almost legato. Also with twotypes of notation for legato tonguing. The staccato and slur combination implies a lighter touch like staccato notes that almost join together, whereas the tenuto and slur combination suggests longer sounds with only the very gentlest use of the tongue to separate them. Players interpret these symbols in different ways. Watch the video clips for a brief explanation.
Literally 'held' - notes are tongued, held for the full length and sometimes given a gentle stress. Notated by short lines above or below the note. The combination of the tenuto line with the staccato dot (below left) suggests either slightly shorter notes or that less stress should be given to each one, a lighter tenuto.
Double and triple tonguing notation explained. Compound tonguing in groups of two or three. The notation is often used to indicate double and triple tonguing. Although double tonguing is possible on the clarinet and the bass clarinet it is not very clear. You can find out more about double and triple tonguing in Oboe Articulation.
A rolled 'r' tonguing. Not all players can do flutter tonguing. Those that cannot have to 'fake' with a throat flutter that sounds less effective, more of a rumbling sound than a crisp 'rrrrrrrrrrrr'.