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I've been digging through a lot of free woodwind samples lately and this has made me wonder:

Are clarinets more difficult to play in tune than other wind instruments?

The reason I'm asking is that the majority of clarinets I've tried have MAJOR tuning problems. And not as in some notes consistently being a few cents sharp or flat (which is easy enough to fix at the mapping stage), but as in the pitch wavering all over the place rendering the samples unusable. The VSCO2 CE clarinet is by far the best one while others, like the MTG clarinet from Freesound, is dreadful. Even the classic Maestro Clarinet has so many tuning issues it's barely worth trying to fix. Weird thing is I haven't really noticed this with other sampled reeds. I know that pitch is tied to air pressure in wind instruments so it might be a case of less skilled players being recorded, but still. Are clarinets more finicky than their woodwind cousins?
The VSCO 2 one was auto-tuned. Wink

I think reed instruments in general are very finicky. Even a professional oboe or sax player, without an absolute pitch reference to keep true to, can waver a lot (often sharper in the high register).

However, at the same time, I also once did an entire horn sampling session *accidentally 1 halfstep flat* without anyone noticing until the cutting stage, so I think the larger issue at hand is not having a tuner or drone present when sampling instruments of non-fixed pitch. Yes, it can be fixed in post with auto-tuning, but a lot of people just leave that step out or decide against it intentionally as it can ruin the sense of realism.
As a clarinetist, I used to claim that the clarinet is possibly the most finicky instrument in the orchestra, but then I made the mistake of saying that in front of a bassoonist. I was promptly informed that double reed instruments are twice as finicky as instruments with a single reed. So I'm not sure that I can ever again complain in the presence of somebody who plays oboe, cor anglais, or bassoon.

With that said, there are a few tuning problems inherent in the design of a clarinet.

One problem is a matter of a trade off between the lower register and upper register. The difference in playing in these two registers is usually just a matter of embouchure and a single key difference: opening the register hole generally encourages the instrument to sound a twelfth interval higher. The problem with this is that given the natural harmonics of the instrument, the twelfth interval higher is exactly three times the frequency, but in the modern system of equal temperament, a twelfth interval is only approximately 3x the frequency. So as a clarinetist, if you are trying to play in tune with an equal temperament scale, either the high register will tend to play a bit sharp, or the low register will tend to play a bit flat, or some compromise between the two.

Then there is the matter of temperature. A cold clarinet will play a bit flat, but after playing for a few measures it will warm up and tend to be a bit sharp. It is fairly common for clarinetists to dread coming back in after having several measures of rest, because it is hard to know how the instrument will respond. During one performance I took to blowing air through the instrument softly enough that it didn't engage the reed, with the hope that it would keep it warmed up enough to not sound horrible when I started playing my part. Of course that would probably look really goofy in a more formal performance.

Embouchure can have a big impact on playing in tune. A really good clarinetist will use this to compensate for all of the above, but I can't claim that I am very good at this. Under many circumstances I find that my playing can suffer from what my high school band teacher called "wobblies"; if a clarinetist doesn't have extremely good control of embouchure, the tune can go all over the place, which I would guess is a big part of the problem that Mattias describes.

Shameless plug - I would love to try recording a live clarinet track for anybody here. If you're inclined, it would probably be best to try it out on an experimental piece, something that you're not too serious about. I can't make any promises as to how well it would turn out, but it would be fun to try.
(07-19-2019, 11:59 PM)Samulis Wrote: [ -> ]The VSCO 2 one was auto-tuned. Wink

Ah-hah! Well that explains it. Maybe I should try that with the offending samples and simply re-render them. Still, not sure how well any auto-tune plugins I have will work on staccato notes. 

(07-19-2019, 11:59 PM)Samulis Wrote: [ -> ]I think reed instruments in general are very finicky. Even a professional oboe or sax player, without an absolute pitch reference to keep true to, can waver a lot (often sharper in the high register).

That's true for all woodwinds I think; the higher the note the more air pressure required, and the more air pressure the better embochure needed to keep the notes on pitch and stable like Michael says below:

(07-20-2019, 05:07 AM)Michael Willis Wrote: [ -> ]Embouchure can have a big impact on playing in tune. A really good clarinetist will use this to compensate for all of the above, but I can't claim that I am very good at this. Under many circumstances I find that my playing can suffer from what my high school band teacher called "wobblies"; if a clarinetist doesn't have extremely good control of embouchure, the tune can go all over the place, which I would guess is a big part of the problem that Mattias describes.

Still, judging by the samples I have (even commercial ones) clarinets seem more afflicted by tuning issues than other woodwinds. Or maybe it's because of the instrument's pure and most commonly vibrato-less tone -- perhaps the wavering is just more noticeable.

(07-20-2019, 05:07 AM)Michael Willis Wrote: [ -> ]Then there is the matter of temperature. A cold clarinet will play a bit flat, but after playing for a few measures it will warm up and tend to be a bit sharp. It is fairly common for clarinetists to dread coming back in after having several measures of rest, because it is hard to know how the instrument will respond. During one performance I took to blowing air through the instrument softly enough that it didn't engage the reed, with the hope that it would keep it warmed up enough to not sound horrible when I started playing my part. Of course that would probably look really goofy in a more formal performance.

The only woodwinds I can play are tin whistles (and Irish flute, to some small extent) and it's common to blow into the whistle with your finger over the blade before playing to warm it up, otherwise it will play noticeably flat. So again, I'm not sure this is unique for the clarinet. Then again, a clarinet has more mass than a whistle so I suppose the problem might be more pronounced. 

(07-20-2019, 05:07 AM)Michael Willis Wrote: [ -> ]Shameless plug - I would love to try recording a live clarinet track for anybody here. If you're inclined, it would probably be best to try it out on an experimental piece, something that you're not too serious about. I can't make any promises as to how well it would turn out, but it would be fun to try.

I'd love to take you up on that, though at present I don't think I have any tune I'm working on that features clarinet in a major way (i.e. something that would actually be interesting to play). But I'll keep your offer in mind! Didn't you experiment with sampling your clarinet though?
Yeah, reed instruments are difficult. Not as difficult as double reeds, from what I hear, but still reasonably difficult.

One orchestration trick I read a while ago was: never write octaves for your clarinet! Even if they play the fundamentals in tune, the way overtones and partials stack with clarinets mean that octaves sound out-of-tune.
Hey Mattias do you have the samples that David Healey put in the public domain / CC0? Here are the woodwinds if you want them. I can put up the brass if you want...

http://www.mediafire.com/file/likj3hmi99...es.7z/file
(07-20-2019, 07:37 PM)bigcat1969 Wrote: [ -> ]Hey Mattias do you have the samples that David Healey put in the public domain / CC0? Here are the woodwinds if you want them. I can put up the brass if you want...

http://www.mediafire.com/file/likj3hmi99...es.7z/file

Thanks! Any link to the original release or anything? The name David Healey sounds familiar but I don't think I have these samples.
(07-20-2019, 07:43 PM)Mattias Westlund Wrote: [ -> ]
(07-20-2019, 07:37 PM)bigcat1969 Wrote: [ -> ]Hey Mattias do you have the samples that David Healey put in the public domain / CC0? Here are the woodwinds if you want them. I can put up the brass if you want...

http://www.mediafire.com/file/likj3hmi99...es.7z/file

Thanks! Any link to the original release or anything? The name David Healey sounds familiar but I don't think I have these samples.

Healey's the guy behind the Sofia Woodwinds project, I believe.
(07-20-2019, 01:22 PM)Mattias Westlund Wrote: [ -> ]Still, judging by the samples I have (even commercial ones) clarinets seem more afflicted by tuning issues than other woodwinds. Or maybe it's because of the instrument's pure and most commonly vibrato-less tone -- perhaps the wavering is just more noticeable.

Vibrato is considered by most instruments who use it to be a fantastic way to cover up tuning issues... perhaps why it is so popular with bowed string instruments. XD
(07-20-2019, 11:36 PM)Samulis Wrote: [ -> ]Vibrato is considered by most instruments who use it to be a fantastic way to cover up tuning issues

It's also a handy way for virtual library creators to hide loop points in their samples.  Big Grin
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