The following is a comprehensive list of what clarinetists need to do to successfully Cross the Dreaded Break:
- Put the correct fingers in the correct places at the correct time.
- That is all.
I frequently meet young clarinetists who have been taught that a successful Crossing of the Dreaded Break requires many other things, including but not limited to:
- A long lecture by the band director or private teacher about how impossibly difficult this is going to be
- Tightening the embouchure
- Experiencing crippling fear
- Blowing harder
- Getting a more expensive mouthpiece
- Using a band method book that postpones crossing the break for absolutely months and months
- Being really tense and working much too hard
- Moving up to a much harder reed
If breath support, embouchure, and voicing are correctly established, then Crossing the Dreaded Break ceases to be a Thing. It’s just another note: a moment ago you were playing B-flat, and now you are playing B-natural. As long as your fingers get where they are supposed to go, then that’s all there is to it. Personally, I don’t even use the word “break” with a beginning student—there’s no need to get them all uptight about what really is a non-event.
If you are a band director or teacher of beginning (or advanced) clarinetists, and you find that they have difficulty crossing the break, you must first diagnose basic tone production issues:
- Are the instrument, mouthpiece, and reed of basic decent quality and in good functional condition?
- Is the breath support firm and constant?
- Is the voicing nice and high?
- Is the embouchure well-formed, without excess tension?
If not, (re-)teach these as basic concepts of clarinet playing, not as special things to be done at Dreaded Break-Crossing time.
If all is well with basic tone production, then all that remains is to move fingers. Granted, a stepwise break crossing does mean that many fingers must move precisely at the same time, and this may require training and practice. But if the fingers are covering and uncovering the right holes in unison, then a successful crossing is assured.
Crossing the break is only as hard as you tell your students it is!