The Clarinet of the Twenty-First Century - E. Michael Richards

CHAPTER III - Multiphonics

Chart of Multiple Sounds for Clarinet

The following chart has been compiled from hundreds of musical compositions, and experiments; it has been checked by numerous players for accuracy. I have striven to organize the material according to acoustic principles of the clarinet and basic principles of clarinet technique. All of the multiple sounds presented are playable on any traditional professional mouthpiece/reed set-up. They demand only slight deviations from normal finger expectations and embouchure.

Many previous studies have organized multiple sounds according to verbal descriptions of categories of production and/or sound, regardless of acoustical relationships. This study employs acoustical relationships as the first order of organization, and briefly describes characteristics of each multiple sound (see explanation of notation, below). Of course, it is impossible to discuss every conceivable context for a particular multiple sound. BE SURE TO CONSULT A CLARINETIST ABOUT FEASIBLE CONTEXTS FOR PARTICULAR MULTIPLE SOUNDS.

Multiple sounds have been placed in groups (labeled by letter, beginning with those with the lowest fundamental); a common denominator within each group is an identical register/terminator hole. In other words, the left hand fingering remains constant within a group. The multiple sounds are ordered according to the right hand fingerings which ascend in chromatic or microtonal intervals. Care has been taken to insure that these groups are playable as sequences; this means limited (minimum) finger movement, and a lack of contrary motion, wherever possible. The fastest possible tempo of legato connections of multiphonics within a group has been notated between the staves:

very fast


moderately fast


not possible

A broken vertical line ( ) between multiple sounds in a group indicates that a legato connection is not possible, even though the adjacent sounds utilize the same series of partials. A double bracket ( [ ] ) between sounds in a group indicates that a legato connection is not possible, because the series of partials changes.

Groups of multiple sounds with the same letter label (ie. A, A1, A2 etc.) utilize slightly different, but related left hand fingerings (different vents). For example, left-hand fingerings in Group A1 differ from Group A only through the addition of the register key. Left-hand fingerings in Group A2 differ from Group A only through the addition of the A-key, etc. The close technical relation of these groups makes numerous trills and tremolos possible between them (discussed later). Left-hand fingerings for A represent the lowest bottom pitches - left-hand fingerings for Z, the highest bottom pitches.

It is important to note that each multiple sound listed is available in isolation; it need not be connected to another. Various characteristics of each multiple sound have been described beneath each example in the chart. The format of this chart, top line to bottom line, is:

I - a number (1-462) - this number represents the position of this multiple sound in relation to the others in the chart, according to its lowest (and highest) pitch. The multiphonic with the lowest low pitch is #1; the multiphonic with the highest low pitch is #462.

II - dynamic range possible - pp to FF

III - stability: how stable?

a = very stable is the sustain

b = moderately stable

c = unstable

IV - response: the time required to begin all sounds of the multiple sound?

1 = all sounds begin simultaneously, easily

2 = all sounds appear within 1 second, easily

3 = all sounds appear within 2 seconds, resistant

4 = all sounds appear within 3 seconds, more resistant

5 = all sounds appear within 4-5 seconds, very resistant

V - timbre and texture - some general characteristics deserve mention here:

1) All diads will contain a significant amount of air when played softly.

•  All multiple sounds that use keys 3 and/or 4 as register vents will have thin timbres.

•  Most of the multiple sounds that do not contain undertones are capable of generating higher partials than

indicated in the chart when played very loudly. However, the production and content of these partials are not controllable or reliable.


timbre descriptions are divided into 2 categories:

a) those which describe individual pitches of a multiple sound

b) those which describe the overall texture of a multiple sound

dull - lack of partials

dark - few higher partials

dlbt. or dl.b - dull lowest pitch

wide - predominant lower partials

thin - pitch is weak, lack of partials


ft - (fat) many partials (low & high)

brt or edge - (bright) many higher partials

brtp - bright highest pitch

eltp - electronic "edgy" highest pitch

thtp, t.h., or th.t - thin highest pitch

wktp - weak highest pitch - strong highest pitch


sbtn - subtone


elc - (electronic) 3 or more pitches,

thin timbres, acoustical beats

elc! - (raucous electronic) - changing amplitudes of pitches (similar to electronic,otherwise)

bts - (acoustical beats) - acoustical beats caused by out of tune intervals

slbt or sbt - (slow acoustical beats)

thk - (thick) many pitches

thk! - very thick

mud - (muddy) unclear pitches


ns - noise in the sound

s.ns - some noise in the sound

air - air sounds apparent in sonority


bal - (balance) all pitches of equal intensity

3vc - three voices

mvc - many voices

holl - (hollow) - high and low pitch (no middle frequencies)

tran - (transparent)

lite - (light) thin timbres

gent - (gentle) dull timbres

soft - dull timbres

rest - resistant


diad - two pitches (an undertone - lowest pitch is weaker than the highest)

Mtr! - predominant major 3rd (10th) or triad

M3! - major 3rd


VI - technique - (hints for easier production)

ls! - looser embouchure, less air pressure

tite - tighter embouchure, more air pressure

d.lw - difficult to produce lowest pitch

!tp - aim for highest pitch


VII - arpeggiation - capability to begin multiple sound with top or bottom pitch alone, gradually adding other pitches:

top - easy to begin with top pitch bot - easy to begin with bottom pitch

m.d. - moderately difficult

d. - difficult

Chart of Multiphonics


The notation system used in this chart for multiple sounds on the staff is one which the author hopes will become standardized. All pitches (or as many as possible) in the multiple sound should be written on the staff. The filled-in note heads indicate secondary pitches, which may or may not be present according to the dynamic level of the multiple sound. It is important that the fingering for a multiple sound be indicated at every occurrence in the music, directly under the sonority. These procedures will greatly assist the clarinetist in learning the music.

The website for The Clarinet of the Twenty-First Century has an interactive, searchable database of multiphonic fingerings (http:// ) for clarinetists and composers. One may choose multiphonics based on any or all of the variables below:

lowest pitch

highest pitch

number of pitches (2, 3, more than 3)

softest dynamic possible (pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff)

loudest dynamic possible (pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff)

stability (very stable, moderately stable, unstable)

resistance (easy, somewhat resistant, resistant, more resistant, very resistant)

possible to begin from lowest pitch alone?

possible to begin from highest pitch alone?

noise in sound? (no noise, some noise, much noise)

strong acoustic beats in sonority? (not apparent, some, many)

color extremes (none, dull, bright)


The website also has a database for sequences of multiphonics. The searchable variables include:

sequence with stationary lowest pitch? Which pitch?

sequence with stationary highest pitch Which pitch?

easy technical sequences - fastest possible tempo (moderate, moderately fast, fast, very fast)


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The Clarinet of the Twenty-First Century