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I play the Bass Clarinet in a few Wind Bands. A constant problem I've always had is feeling drowned out whenever the band plays in a normal dynamic - the tone and pitch of the instrument are easily lost. I also find myself frequently the only bass instrument in a large group - meaning I'd like to be creating a sound equivalent to a couple of tubas, few trombones and a bassoon section etc.

Besides growing my lungs (a work in progress), what else could I look at doing to get more volume from the bass? I've been considering a new mouthpiece for a while, and know that can affect volume - what should I be looking for? Any specific recommendations?

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    You say it like that's a bad thing :-) (from a former Bb clarinetist, so I can get away w/ jabs like that) – Carl Witthoft Jul 3 '14 at 16:02
  • You must have met some bad Bass Clarinets. ;-) – Chris Jul 3 '14 at 16:03
  • Not sure if you are actually making that mistake, but it's easy to feel misplaces as a bass player (that goes for bass clarinet, bass guitar, double bass... really anything) because you get the impression that you don't contribute to the music. Truth is, you're a vital part of the music, and you'd notice how important such instruments are if you took them away. Bass instruments are usually not meant to be very clearly audible. – Lee White Jul 4 '14 at 16:54
  • Thanks @LeeWhite. Perhaps I should give a better example. In some amateur groups, I may be the sole bass instrument, making up for 10 or so other musicians who would normally play in the same range. (Bassoonists and Tuba players are remarkably hard to come by!) I do understand the trails of playing a bass instrument, but asked this Q to find out what I can do to produce more volume, and provide this "vital part" of the music properly - bass clarinets put across significantly less volume than tubas/Bari sax etc. If you are able to advise me what I could do here, I'd be very interested! – Chris Jul 6 '14 at 18:10
  • I helped out as bassoonist in a large wind ensemble, which had all these tubas, trombones etc. I was astonished that I could nearly not hear myself playing (which never happened in a standard orchestra), but nevertheless got some nice remarks from co-musicians later, how I added to the complete sound. So I guess it is partially a psychological problem. One instrument can't replace a whole bass group and the conductor will probably not succeed to reduce the volume of all saxophones, clarinets and trumpets to really achieve a sort of balance in this case. – guidot Jul 7 '14 at 6:33
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Perception is key. Start by asking the conductor how he feels the balance is. Given that 90% of bass clarinet parts are supporting lines, rather than leading lines, you don't exactly want to have your sound stand out above the sections carrying the tune.

If the conductor agrees that you're not producing proper volume, work with your teacher (sure hope you have one!) to see whether a stronger reed and/or a different mouthpiece w/ larger gap will help you produce a fuller sound.

Volume isn't everything, or we'd all be using Otto Link monsters!

  • Thank you for your answer. I'd say I was more aiming for 'be audible' than 'stand out'! I will leave this question open for now, as I was looking more for information on how I can make more volume, rather than if I should be making more volume - if nothing else it would definitely be nice to have more flexibility in how much volume I can make. ;-) – Chris Jul 3 '14 at 16:20
  • And, entirely coincidently...I do use an 'Otto Link Monster' on my sax, but I don't think they've developed a line in Bass Clarinet Mouthpieces! – Chris Jul 3 '14 at 16:20
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This isn't really a bass clarinet specific answer, but one that would help you to be heard in ensemble playing, generally. Increasing your absolute volume may not be the only way to be heard clearly within an ensemble texture. Playing with more attack, and so more definition, may allow you to be heard more clearly within the ensemble; it will also add vitality and rhythmic precision to your playing, and so the ensemble as a whole.

  • Thanks for the advice Bob. Again, I'll leave this open, as I was hoping for a more instrument-oriented answer - but what you say is also valid, thanks. – Chris Jul 7 '14 at 12:15
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I play in several community bands and a community orchestra. There are other BC players in most of these groups, and we all joke about the fact that no one else notices us, and conductors seldom pick on us; I noticed that in NJ State Band in the 1950s---we used to chuckle about it even then. Few paid attention to us; we figured they didn't hear us...we were all playing school instruments: pre-war Conns. I think it's partly the instrument. I've been asked to other groups when other players haven't, and it isn't technique; they're at least as good as I am. But many of my co-players remark on my beautiful tone, and it does tend to ''come through'', not in loudness, but in type of sound. Conductors love it (the few times we solo)! There really is nothing that can compare to the sound that comes out of a Buffet BC, and loudness has little to do with it.

As someone who, way back when, played with 3--3.5 reeds on a clarinet, I could never seem to get above a 2.5 on the BC. I would lose tone depth on harder reeds. 64 years later that still holds. The trick, of course, is getting a reed soft enough for the lowest 2 registers, and still play above the register change without squeaking or sounding like an alto sax. I expect professional BC players can get into harder reeds, and they also know how to play around with them. I do some reed adjustment, but in my doddering old age I prefer to spend my limited time on earth in other ways.

Definitely practice long tones daily.

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Without an audio example, I can't say if there's an actual problem with your setup. If you're in a place with a strong bass clarinetist or music store, see if your mouthpiece/reed/instrument is a problem. But my sense is that it's probably not.

The bass clarinet is really a misnamed instrument -- it's basically a tenor instrument. Many good composers write for it to be a tenor and not a bass, so if you're playing the bass clarinet part in a group you may be designed to be a supporting instrument instead of the situation you're in where you need to be the bass. If you find yourself playing in the throat tone range often, this could be the problem. First, try taking your part down an octave whenever that's possible -- that will help the audibility. Next see if you can switch your part for a bass part -- if you can read bass clef while transposing, then covering the tuba part would be best. But that might not be possible. The next best would be to see if there's a baritone treble clef part; that part plays often and often doubles the tuba in octaves, and it's written in B-flat treble clef, so no transposition needed.

If all else fails and, as Carl says, you've talked to the conductor and the balance is a problem to him or her, you could decide to use a small amount of amplification -- the b.c. amplifies easily and naturally if the microphone is decent in the bass register. It might not be what the composer intended, but he or she probably also didn't intend the bass clarinet to be covering the entire bass section's parts.

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    Thanks Michael. I do a few of these already (dropping the octave, tuba parts) but there's some good ideas there. I'm not sure I'm at the point of desperation to go for electronic amplification yet, I'm hoping there's a way to make more sound myself, but it's a good thought, perhaps for concerts and that. Cheers. – Chris Jul 8 '14 at 12:50

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