Review: The Clarinet (Paul Harris)

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I have to say, I feel a little bit of a fraud reviewing a book about the clarinet. I don’t teach clarinet, and indeed my playing skills are now probably limited to a few variegated duck noises. That said, I’ve been assured that having passed my Grade 1 Clarinet 13 years ago, I am more than qualified! Of course, the real reason I’m reviewing this book is that Paul Harris‘s writing is engaging whether you’re a clarinettist or not, and quite honesty, how could I resist adding his brand new book, simply titled, The Clarinet, to my bookshelves.

The book is subtitled ‘the ultimate companion to clarinet playing’, and at 232 pages, this is a substantial volume, and I’m sure has been a real labour of love to write and bring together. The book aims to offer a:

“complete philosophy of playing, equipping clarinettists with innovative ways to overcome the instrument’s technical, musical and practical challenges and ultimately, enhance the enjoyment of their art.”

What I particularly like about this book is it’s not just a book about clarinet technique; it’s not just a tutor book; it’s not just a book about the history of the instrument; and it’s not just a book of exercises: it’s all of those and so much more.

Soundwaves and harmonics from the The Clarinet by Paul Harris

The book is primarily divided into eight sections, covering:

  1. Being prepared (warming up)
  2. Sounding good (the science of sound, breathing, embouchure)
  3. Developing tone (dynamics, projection, pitch)
  4. Intonation and playing in tune (tuning, harmonics, register changes)
  5. Articulation (staccato, legato, tonguing)
  6. Finger-work and dexterity (movement, control, strength)
  7. Performance (style, interpretation)
  8. The clarinet (reeds, maintenance)

That said, it’s impossible to convey in this review how much is covered. This is a huge volume which will keep clarinettists occupied for hours (or even years).

A moment of reflection from Paul Harris

The book is written, as is always the case with Paul’s writing, from the heart. It is a book written not just from hours of research, but from personal experience. That makes it inherently readable and accessible, whatever your level or interest in the clarinet. For the scientists among you, the intricacies of tone and sound are explained from a physics point of view, yet always in a layperson’s terms.

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Every chapter is stuffed full of tips and exercises covering every conceivable part of clarinet playing. Extracts of clarinet works are included too, so many of the exercises are derived from actual music. If you’re a flautist, you’re probably familiar with Trevor Wye’s books on the flute (a series of six, and a combined edition). This book is very similar, yet it is far more accessible, and, dare I say, more enjoyable. It would be a huge undertaking, but what an amazing achievement it would be if Faber commissioned a similar book for each instrument?!

Exercises for moving out of throat register by Paul Harris

As well as the material itself, I wanted to mention a few other features of the book which I think are worthy of note. Firstly, Paul’s introduction is the place to start, and as always, it’s written in a reflective and heartfelt way, centring on technical and musical aspects of the clarinet, and on movement. At the end of the book, there is an historic timeline, details of clarinet dynasties, repertoire timings, recommended orchestral tutti cuts, and recommended recordings. There is also a glossary of useful terms. Perhaps the only thing I’m missing is an index, but I appreciate that would be have been a huge undertaking.

Recommended orchestral tutti for clarinet

For anyone worried about the price tag, fear not. This book is worth every penny. It is beautifully produced, clearly laid out and, despite my initial worries, was coerced into lying flat on the music stand.

Overall, this will become a landmark book of our generation, and who better to write it that someone who, as well as an eminent clarinettist, is a leading figure in the world of music education. It’s certainly inspired me to dust off my clarinet again (i.e. see if it still works) and start playing. If anything will help me progress beyond Grade 1, I think this book is it, and you never know, if I ever do Grade 2, I might actually be able to surprise the examiner by getting a sound out of the instrument*!

The Clarinet by Paul Harris, is published by Faber Music, ISBN 9780571542185, RRP £25.00.

*I did get a sound eventually, but the poor examiner must have wondered what was happening ?

I was sent a review copy of this book free of charge; however, this review is my honest opinion as a teacher. You can find my Reviews Policy here.

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