15 Incredible Extended Techniques on the Clarinet

clarinet-extended-techniquesExtended techniques on the clarinet involve unconventional methods of playing that produce unique sounds and effects beyond the instrument’s traditional capabilities.

These techniques allow composers and performers to explore new sonic territories.

Here’s a list of 15 extended techniques commonly used on the clarinet:

Must Know Clarinet Extended Techniques


Multiphonics on the clarinet involves producing two or more notes simultaneously, a feat achieved by exploiting the instrument’s acoustical properties and fingerings that encourage the reed to vibrate at multiple frequencies. This technique requires precise control of embouchure and air pressure, allowing for the creation of complex, chord-like sounds that add rich, textured layers to the music. Multiphonics can vary greatly in timbre and intonation, offering a wide palette for creative expression.


Microtones are pitches that lie between the conventional notes of the Western musical scale, offering a subtler gradation of pitch than the standard semitone. On the clarinet, microtones are produced through alternative fingerings, partial hole covering, or adjusted embouchure, enabling musicians to explore scales and harmonies beyond traditional boundaries. This technique is particularly valued in contemporary and experimental music, where nuanced pitch variations are essential.

Circular Breathing

Circular Breathing allows clarinetists to sustain notes or passages for longer than their breath would normally permit. By inhaling through the nose while simultaneously pushing air stored in the cheeks into the instrument, performers can maintain a continuous sound without interruption for breaths. Mastering circular breathing requires practice to coordinate the seamless transition between cheek and lung air, but it significantly expands the performer’s expressive capabilities.

Flutter Tonguing

Flutter Tonguing on the clarinet is achieved by rolling the ‘R’ sound with the tongue while playing a note, creating a rapid, tremolo-like effect. This technique, which mimics the fluttering of a valve, adds a unique textural element to the sound, useful in evoking tension, excitement, or a sense of movement within a piece. It requires control over both the tongue’s movement and the airstream for effective execution.

Slap Tonguing

Slap Tonguing produces a sharp, percussive sound, reminiscent of a slap, by creating a vacuum between the tongue and the reed and then releasing it forcefully, causing the reed to hit the mouthpiece. This technique not only adds rhythmic intensity but can also be used melodically or to mimic electronic effects acoustically. It demands precise timing and control over the embouchure to achieve the desired percussive impact without disrupting the flow of the performance.


Growling in clarinet playing involves producing a growl-like sound by humming or growling in the throat while blowing into the instrument, creating a dual-tone effect. This technique, which combines the sound of the reed vibration with the vocalization, results in a gritty, textured tone that adds an edgy, expressive layer to the music. Growling is particularly effective in jazz and contemporary music, where it contributes to the emotional depth and complexity of the performance.


Glissando on the clarinet is a smooth slide between pitches, achieved by gradually moving the fingers off the keys or holes to alter the pitch continuously. Unlike instruments with fixed pitches, the clarinet’s design allows for fluid, expressive glissandos, especially prominent in works by composers like Gershwin. This technique showcases the clarinet’s versatility, enabling performers to mimic the human voice or create dramatic musical effects.

Key Clicks

Key Clicks involve tapping the keys of the clarinet without actually blowing into the instrument, producing a percussive sound. This technique can be used rhythmically to add a unique textural element to a piece or to create atmospheric effects. Key clicks challenge the conventional use of the clarinet, expanding its role beyond melody and harmony to include percussive capabilities.

Altissimo Register

Altissimo Register refers to the clarinet’s highest notes, extending beyond the instrument’s traditional range. Achieving these pitches requires precise embouchure control, advanced finger techniques, and focused air support. The altissimo register is characterized by its bright, penetrating sound, offering a dramatic contrast to the clarinet’s lower registers and allowing for virtuosic displays in both classical and contemporary repertoire.


Overblowing on the clarinet involves blowing with increased air pressure to access higher harmonics or octaves not available through standard fingerings. This technique can produce intense, vibrant sounds and is often used for effect in modern compositions. Overblowing requires skillful control to maintain pitch and tonal quality, illustrating the performer’s mastery and the instrument’s expressive potential.

Pitch Bending

Pitch Bending on the clarinet is the technique of slightly altering the pitch of a note up or down, creating a smooth transition between notes or adding expressive vibrato. This effect is achieved by adjusting the embouchure, changing the air pressure, or subtly modifying finger positions. Pitch bending allows clarinetists to infuse their playing with a nuanced expressiveness, closely mimicking the human voice or instruments like the slide trombone, enriching the musical texture with emotional depth and flexibility.

Quarter Tones

Quarter Tones are produced on the clarinet by playing pitches that lie halfway between the standard notes of the Western chromatic scale. This involves using non-standard fingerings, partially covering tone holes, or adjusting the embouchure to fine-tune the pitch. Quarter tones expand the clarinet’s harmonic vocabulary, enabling players to explore microtonal music and offering composers new realms of sonic possibility that challenge traditional Western tuning systems.

Singing and Playing

Singing and Playing combines vocal sound with clarinet tones, creating a layered, chorus-like effect. By singing while blowing into the instrument, clarinetists can produce two distinct pitches simultaneously or blend the timbres of voice and clarinet. This technique requires careful control over breathing and vocalization, allowing for a rich interplay of textures and an expansion of the instrument’s expressive capabilities.

Air Sounds

Air Sounds are generated by blowing air through the clarinet without making the reed vibrate, resulting in a breathy, whisper-like sound. This technique can be used for atmospheric effects, adding a sense of space or ethereal quality to the music. Air sounds challenge traditional notions of instrumental sound, offering composers and performers a tool for creating ambient textures and nuanced soundscapes.


Bisbigliando is a term borrowed from harp technique, adapted for clarinet to describe a trembling or fluttering sound effect. It involves rapidly alternating between two fingerings for the same note or closely related harmonics, producing a subtle vibrato or shimmering quality. This technique adds a delicate, expressive layer to the clarinet’s sound, useful for conveying emotional subtlety or enhancing the atmospheric quality of a piece.

These extended techniques expand the expressive range of the clarinet, offering endless possibilities for innovation in contemporary music composition and performance.

Frequently Asked Questions

What clarinet technique allows a player to produce multiple notes at once?

Multiphonics on the clarinet enable the player to produce several notes simultaneously by using specific fingerings and embouchure adjustments. This advanced technique creates complex, chord-like sounds that expand the instrument’s harmonic possibilities.

How can a clarinetist achieve sounds outside the traditional Western chromatic scale?

By employing microtonal fingerings and adjusting their embouchure, clarinetists can play quarter tones, which are pitches that lie between the standard notes of the Western chromatic scale. This technique allows for the exploration of non-Western music scales and avant-garde compositions that require precise pitch variations.

Is it possible for clarinet players to sustain a note indefinitely, and if so, how?

Yes, through a technique called circular breathing, clarinetists can sustain notes for a prolonged period without interruption for breaths. This involves inhaling through the nose while simultaneously pushing air stored in the cheeks into the instrument, allowing for continuous sound production.

What technique on the clarinet produces a percussive sound without using the reed?

Key clicks are achieved by tapping the clarinet’s keys without blowing air into the instrument, creating a distinct percussive effect. This technique is used to add rhythmic elements or special effects to a piece, expanding the clarinet’s sonic palette beyond its traditional sounds.

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