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  • Marilyn Mattei

Crossing the Break, Part 3 (and last!)

Updated: Feb 25

Something I dislike about reading blogs is all the "fluff" you have to wade through to get to the heart of the matter. So let's just jump right in.


Be sure you've read and used the process in parts 1 and 2. Part 3 doesn't work without them.


One of the things I mentioned in Part 1 was to check for leaks before starting this whole process. If you didn't do that, please do it now. Here's where to check.


The bottom tone hole is the most likely place to develop a leak. Since I'm writing this with non-clarinet players in mind, I'll try to describe how to do this. Using just the bottom joint, cover the tone holes with the fingers of your right hand, cover the bottom opening with your left hand to create a seal, and blow HARD. If it's leaking, you'll hear a hiss.Taking time to check this might save you and your students a lot of frustration.


I haven't seen many band books that have 1st year clarinet players playing extensively above the break. As a result, they get to band the next year and don't read those notes very well. Part 3 of our process should help with that, as well as with crossing the break. Here's the plan:


1. Review register slurs WITHOUT the book. (Surely you've been doing this all along?!) Then add in reading the upper notes while doing register slurs so anything above throat tone Bb isn't foreign territory. (For Clarinets Only, p.28) I start with G, F, and E and then add D and C rather quickly. At this point, students can handle learning more notes at once than they did at the beginning of the school year.


2. Next I work extensively with just those 5 notes. This reinforces the note reading, use of the register key/thumb key combination, and correct hand position for the right hand. When we get to My Country 'Tis of Thee (p. 30), I sneak in the B natural, and they hardly even notice. Through all of this, WE STILL HAVEN'T GONE ACROSS THE BREAK! (Will she ever get there? Read on!)


3. Now for the big moment! (p.32) This is the first time for actually crossing the break. BUT - we start above and only go down, as in the example below.


I also like to teach the fingerings for left and right B at the same time and have them practice using both. In Clarinet Land, right B is used probably as much or maybe more often than left.



Drills like this are then quickly followed by exercises that FINALLY actually require going from A to B and Bb to C.


Yes, this is a long but successful process. This has made made teaching my students to cross the break ALMOST painless. In the process, students have worked on developing correct hand position AND they have become familiar with reading notes above the middle of the staff. That comes in handy at the beginning of the 2nd year when they suddenly get a first clarinet part to the school fight song and it's all above the break!

You can get more information about For Clarinets Only and see Sample Pages at matteimusicservices.com