Masterclass

Conn-Selmer Factory Tour

Selmer Clarinet Factory in Elkhart, Indiana

I had the opoportinity to visit the Conn-Selmer headquarters in Elkhart, Indiana. It was a fantastic day to meet the people at Conn-Selmer and see how the beginning clarinets are manuafactured at the Factory there in Elkhart, and to try out the latest professional line clarinets from Selmer Paris.

The factory in Elkhart has two main buildings; a brass building, and a woodwind building. We were able to tour the woodwind facility where they manufacture beginning level flutes, clarinets, oboes, saxophones, and bassoons. The factory has been in place since the early 1900s. We met some remarkable individuals who assemble these instruments by hand. These families have passed down this tradition from generation to generation and perform painstaking workmanship that can only be done by hand, one key at a time.

I was also fortunate to be able to spend an afternoon trying out the latest professional clarinets from Selmer Paris. These instruments come in the following lines:

  • Privilege

  • Presence

  • Signature

  • Prologue (Intermediate)

I tried out each of the above clarinet models. All are excellent instruments, free-blowing, with consistent intonation. I was particularly impressed with the Prologue clarinet as an upgrade for a student looking to upgrade to a wood clarinet. The Prologue is an excellent instrument at a competitive price.

Below are some pictures from the factory with captions about the manufacturing process.

Wood is seasoned for several years before being made into top and bottom clarinet joints.

Wood is seasoned for several years before being made into top and bottom clarinet joints.

Wood joints are turned on a computerized lathe and then sit to acclimate to locale humidity conditions.

Wood joints are turned on a computerized lathe and then sit to acclimate to locale humidity conditions.

Plastic instruments are shaped using a water-cooled CNC machine. The water-cooling prevents the plastic from melting during the cutting-out process.

Plastic instruments are shaped using a water-cooled CNC machine. The water-cooling prevents the plastic from melting during the cutting-out process.

Plastic joints after they have come through the water-cooled CNC process.

Plastic joints after they have come through the water-cooled CNC process.

Plastic molds are made for each type of key. A “tree” of plastic molds is created for making a complete set of one type of key.

Plastic molds are made for each type of key. A “tree” of plastic molds is created for making a complete set of one type of key.

Key trees are the left. Each key must hand-cut off of the tree. The cutting machine is on the right.

Key trees are the left. Each key must hand-cut off of the tree. The cutting machine is on the right.

Bins of keys are organized and catalogued for each woodwind family.

Bins of keys are organized and catalogued for each woodwind family.

The keys float through these moving polishing rocks to refine the keys prior to assembly.

The keys float through these moving polishing rocks to refine the keys prior to assembly.

In order to work and hold the tiny key work, a custom vice is made for each type of key. This allows the key to be held precisely so that the technician can solder the springs onto each individual key.

In order to work and hold the tiny key work, a custom vice is made for each type of key. This allows the key to be held precisely so that the technician can solder the springs onto each individual key.

Example of a key being held by a custom vice.

Example of a key being held by a custom vice.

Technician soldering a spring onto an individual key.

Technician soldering a spring onto an individual key.

Each instrument is assembled by hand.

Each instrument is assembled by hand.

They also manufacture harmony clarinets; alto clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass, etc…

They also manufacture harmony clarinets; alto clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass, etc…

These are waiting to have tenon corks applied. Posts are installed, but no keys yet.

These are waiting to have tenon corks applied. Posts are installed, but no keys yet.

This machine puts on tenon corks in just a few seconds. If you have replaced tenon corks before, you would be jealous of this machine.

This machine puts on tenon corks in just a few seconds. If you have replaced tenon corks before, you would be jealous of this machine.

Lastly, each clarinet is play tested before it leaves the factory. Thank you to Conn-Selmer for inviting me out and giving me the opportunity to tour their incredible facility.

Using MIDI Files for Clarinet Practicing

MIDI files have been around since the 1980s for creating synthesized music. Technology changes so often, yet it is remarkable how MIDI files are still around and useful today. For clarinetists, MIDI files can be a wonderful practice tool for working with accompaniments. SmartMusic is great, but requires a subscription and doesn't always have the clarinet literature needed. I recently found a wonderful website, MUSIX4ME, containing a significant collection of MIDI files of clarinet accompaniments. They are all free to download. Here is how to use them with GarageBand for practicing and memorizing music.

MIDI File Workflow:

  • Download the complete collection via Google Drive
  • Open GarageBand and choose a Blank Session
  • Simply drag the MIDI file into the GarageBand window. It will ask you if you want to import the tempo. You do want to import the tempo.
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Many of the MIDI tracks include the clarinet part as well as the piano part. Here some advantages of doing this with GarageBand.

  • You can mute or solo any track.
  • You can change the tempo without affecting the pitch.
  • You can set loop points for practicing specific sections of music. GarageBand will automatically return to the beginning of the loop for playback with you having to interact with the computer.
  • You can also bounce the MIDI file to an audio file, for import to your iPhone for mobile playback and practicing.
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If you want a more simple approach from using GarageBand, you can download a small MIDI Player app. One nice option is MIDIPlayer X available on the Mac App Store. It is a lightweight app that does a few things well:

  • Drag any Standard MIDI File onto the App Window for Playback
  • Mute channels
  • Change Tempo

It doesn't allow for specific looped areas of playback like you can with GarageBand, or saving out audio file versions.

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Three New ClariNotes

Three New ClariNotes

I have added three new ClariNotes Newsletters to my website. This brings the newsletter up to 18 issues. I am pleased that Vandoren has also recently been linking to specific issues of ClariNotes for their new monthly WAVE Newsletter.

The three new issues are about:

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I hope you will check out all 18 issues and find something that can help you improve your clarinet technique.

ReedGeek

reed geek

There is a new product out for adjusting reeds and it is called the “ReedGeek.” All of the edges can be used in place of a reed knife. It is safe enough to handle without cutting yourself, but sharp enough to adjust reeds precisely without ever needing to sharpen. Each of the long edges are perfect for flattening the reed table. Three smaller edges are useful in adjusting the rails and the tip. The very edge of the ReedGeek is like having an eraser to take off small particles of wood for balancing.

I have had mine for three months now and I love it. I can adjust reeds faster and more accurately than using sandpaper or my reed knife. I am interested to see if it stays sharp and truly doesn’t need sharpening.

I have updated my ClariNotes Newsletter to inlcude the ReedGeek.

New Ballif Beats: Double Life, Eric Mandat

New Ballif Beats Added: Double Life, Eric Mandat

My custom metronomes allow me to practice complex pieces with assymetrical meters. I create these mp3 files in Pro Tools, where I have a lot of control over how the metronome performs. These audio files include:

  • accents on the downbeat of each measure
  • 8th note subdivision on simple meters
  • 16th note subdivision on complex meters

I can save each tempo as a new mp3 file and sync them to my phone for practicing. The third movement of Double Life by Eric Mandat, titled To Be Continued…, is a perfect piece for practicing with a custom metronome.

Feel free to download the files on my Ballif Beats page.

New ClariNotes Issue: SmartMusic Scales

GET SMART WITH SMARTMUSIC

SmartMusic is best known as accompaniment software, but I have found it useful for assessing scales. The following exercises may be downloaded from my website as SmartMusic Assessment Files. Students get instant feedback and teachers may assess their progress.

  • Baermann Scales (Scale, Broken Chords, Interrupted Scale, and Returning Scale)
  • Klose Scales
  • Klose Arpeggios
  • Klose Thirds

My ClariNotes Newsletter Issue Number 15 gives an overview for how I use this in my studio.

New ClariNotes Issue: Changing Registers

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I have a new ClariNotes issue that provides tips for changing registers. Changing registers, or “crossing the break,” is a dreaded aspect of clarinet playing for most beginners. If fundamentals of hand position, embouchure and air aren’t taught from the beginnning, then changing registers smoothly is problematic at best.

Here are some tips for changing registers:

  • Keep the Right Hand Down
  • Rock the Index Finger on the Left Hand
  • Practice Specific Exercises for “Crossing the Break”

Read in more detail about these techniques with my latest issue of ClariNotes.

New ClariNotes Issue: Étude Books

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I have a new ClariNotes Issue that focuses on Étude Books. Études are essential for all serious clarinetists and many students are familiar with names such as Rose and Klose. This issue outlines those standards as well as a few you may not be familiar with, including:

  • Cavallini
  • Uhl
  • Polatschek
  • Bitsch
  • Mandat

Knowing about lesser-known methods and new works can bring a new excitement to practicing études. Checkout more details about these books in this new ClariNotes Issue.

Baermann and Klose SmartMusic Assessments

Baermann’s Celebrated Method For Clarinet is in many ways the bible for developing clarinet technique.[1] In my clarinet studio, the clarinet majors are required to work out of this method each semester and achieve specific skills and tempos.[2] In hopes to help my students to practice these patterns more effectively I have created SmartMusic Assessment files for the Freshman levels in the Baermann Method. These scale requirements include the following patterns in all major and minor keys:

  • full-range scales
  • broken chords
  • interrupted scales
  • returning scales

In creating these SmartMusic Assessment files, I decided to add breaks in the scales for breathing. In this way, a student should be able to record themselves through SmartMusic for an entire key without having to stop the exercise in between patterns. These files will give the student immediate feedback on the percentage of correct notes and the student can then send the recording to the teacher as an assignment.

In addition to the Baermann Method, I also use the Klose scales, arpeggios, and thirds in my daily routine. I have also prepared SmartMusic Assessments for these patterns. I have two versions of the Klose scales: one is broken up with breath marks and another without breaks for practicing circular breathing.

The Baermann files are accessible through my clarinet studio page or direct download links are below.

Baermann SmartMusic Files

Baermann Finale Files

Klose Scales, Arpeggios, Thirds SmartMusic File


  1. Carl Baermann’s Celebrated Method For Clarinet, Part 3 by Carl Baermann (1810–1885). Arranged by Jack Snavely. Published by Kendor Music Inc (KN.21045)  ↩

  2. Click here for the clarinet foundation requirements at Brigham Young University - Idaho.  ↩

New ClariNotes Issue #12: Clarinet Voicing

New ClariNotes Issue #12 - Clarinet Voicing

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Voicing refers to the shape inside the mouth while playing the clarinet. We refer to this space as the “Oral Cavity.” The shape created by the back of the tongue has a large impact on tone quality, intonation, register change, articulation, basically everything about playing the clarinet well. Many young teachers focus on the clarinet embouchure, but neglect teaching students about what needs to happen inside the mouth. Helping students play with proper voicing, right from the beginning, has a large impact on how successful they will be as clarinetists. Bad habits with tongue position are very difficult to overcome, but relatively easy to teach beginners.Check out [ClariNotes #12: Clarinet Voicing: Hee Haw!](http://www.adamballif.com/resources/Clarinet-Resource/ClariNotes/ClariNotes12.pdf)