20 Oct The Improvising Clarinetist: Chapter 5-Fourths
The study of fourths on the clarinet is particularly important. Many clarinetists, if they are classically trained, practice scales and thirds regularly; they may not regularly practice fourths–and fourths have a variety of benefits if you take the time to master them and integrate them into your improvising. Using this interval in your improvising creates a more modern sounding line by breaking up scalar and thirds passage work. Another benefit is the added confidence and technique one gains by developing fluency with this interval. The great New Orleans modernist/clarinetist Alvin Batiste used fourths often in his lines.
His composition Bat’s Blues, off his 1993 Columbia CD Late, is a case study in developing a melody and solo using this interval. Look carefully at the melody and you will see that practically the entire melodic line is composed of fourths, both ascending and descending in direction.
Mr. Batiste will be the subject of a more in depth blog post at some point in the near future, but for now you can find out more about this under recorded Jazz Clarinet Legend here at Wikipedia……https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_Batiste. Notice how he stacks up fourths often in the melody to this tune, and also integrates them into the first part of his solo that I transcribed a bit of here…..
This Wikipedia page is a detailed and technical discussion about fourths, and how they relate to harmony…..https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfect_fourth. Don’t let the detailed musical explanations intimidate you, just give this a quick read and let it go at that. We are interested in the integration of this interval into the improvised lines we are trying to develop. This is really a general posting but worth a few minutes reading to see how this interval works with respect to Western Harmony.
Keep in mind that when playing through Diatonic Fourths in either a Major or Minor tonality you will discover that not all the fourth intervals that occur will be “Perfect” Fourths. For instance in C major, the interval from F to B is not a perfect fourth, yet it absolutely falls into the Diatonic Fourths pattern in this first exercise.
This first PDF is a thorough workout on Diatonic Fourths for the clarinet through all Major and Minor tonalities. This general study of fourths will expand your technique, lead you to more conclusions regarding fingering issues on the clarinet, and generally give your improvised lines more intervalic interest once you are able to draw on them consistently. I know from my own experience that it takes time and patience to begin to integrate larger intervals into your improvising, and this is the perfect starting point to allow you to become comfortable with respect to fourths….
I have devised these next three Exercises to address more fully the challenge of integrating fourths on the clarinet. This is a useful, stimulating and advanced type of study. Practice these slowly, and with persistence over time they will become more comfortable; at that point try finding chord progressions to fit these types of things over. I will suggest more of how to do that in a coming chapter. Remember to be patient with your development and to listen carefully to the various shapes and intervals that are presented in these exercises.
This is a variation on the previous exercise……..
And another variation on the first exercise….
This last exercise is a nice long up and down fourth arpeggio exercise that will challenge your technique and help to ingrain this wider intervallic configuration throughout a wider range of the clarinet. I have practiced this a lot in the past to get the “feel” of fourths under my fingers and their sound into my ears.
It is not uncommon to have difficulty in the beginning when trying to cover this more challenging intervalic material. Stick with it over time, practice these things slowly, taking one exercise at a time until they become a very comfortable and natural part of your technique. I like to say it takes as long as it takes to assimilate this material, especially if it is new to you. Try to integrate this modern sounding interval with the melodic material we have covered in the previous chapters, and try improvising lines, maybe over one chord or even a one note pedal point, to begin to find your way into these sounds and shapes. I predict you will be rewarded with more variety in your improvised lines and you will eventually begin to develop more interesting sounding improvisations as a result.