Power Up! Taking Your Clarinets Over the Break

Over the Break

Taking clarinet students “over the break” can be a daunting task for many band directors.  Often, a single method book does not give the students enough access to the needed skill for them to be successful.  The purpose of this blog post is to share with you a curated Clarinet Register Progression that can be used by the entire band as much or as little as needed by your students.  There are many ideas on the best way to take clarinets through this important transition.  These ideas are just that, a method that has been successful to me over the last 28 years of my teaching career.  

To help give directors and students access to the needed exercises that are not all found in one place traditionally, I have worked with MakeMusic to curate a playlist of exercises. This playlist is broken into 5 topics: Low Notes Prep, High Notes Long Tones, Simple High Note Songs, Register Leaps and Over the Break Technique.  The students can be assigned these lines for at home practice or full band printable music is available for incorporation in a full ensemble situation for some of the selections.

If your band has mixed instrumentation and you would like to practice these lines with the entire band during rehearsal, you can still do so. This is how I would do it in my band hall:  Simply have your students all pull out their devices and log in to MakeMusic Cloud. They should clear off their music stand and adjust the stand to be like a “table”.  Place the device on the stand. Students can open the exercise by accessing the playlist in MakeMusic Cloud. Tip: once a Playlist link is accessed by a user, they can go back to it easily (without the link) by visiting My Library.

You can give them a 321 countdown, and everyone presses play together. In the top menu bar, they can choose Display, and then in the drop-down menu for Beat Cursor, they can select No Cursor. They can also deselect Highlight Measure. This allows the students to be a count or so “off” when they press play, and they can still follow along and play the selection. I have my personal computer playing through the classroom speakers with the My Part and Metronome features on to help them to stay together. You can also have them read the line from their personal computers and conduct the time. Use your creativity with your unique space and rehearsal instrumentation to bring these important drills to your clarinet section as often as possible.

Full Ensemble Use Tips


As you approach these topics, be very aware of the set up that your clarinet students are playing on.  Usually, a firmer reed is needed for students. I prefer to have my students on a 3 or 3.5 reed at this point.

Low Notes Prep

Before any student begins the process of going “over the break,” I feel like the students should spend some time “exploring” the lower notes of the clarinet and what happens if they press the register key.  In a very exploratory way, encourage students to play those notes at home and other non-formal rehearsal situations that work for your situation.  Don’t tell the note names yet, or show them where they are on the staff, just show them the cool things that they can do if they “add fingers.”  So much tension and stress is placed on “going over the break” that it can be a more positive experience for many students to have already played around with these notes before they are formally introduced. I do this a few weeks prior to formally teaching the next steps.

After students have explored these new notes with success, it is time to secure their understanding of the chalumeau register (notes from middle C to low E).  This requires reading ledger lines and students must understand all 3 components of note identification to progress properly.  Students must note name and finger out loud.  Fingering worksheets, flash cards, chanting together in class are all ways that students can gain confidence in this register.  A video submission/assessment might look like having a student video their fingers while saying note names out loud to an assigned line.  Be aware of the right-hand ring finger, it often does not like to cover the hold and students may need help guiding into the correct position to seal the hole.  Having a good hand position is crucial to students reaching and sealing keys.  Some young players have such thin and small fingers that they can’t seal the keys on the right hand.  It is important to reassure students that everyone develops on the instrument at a different pace and that they will be able to do these notes eventually, if not right now.  You may need to rewrite a part for these students to keep them from being discouraged.

Register Leaps

Register Leaps Exercises are a great way to bridge students from the lower register (chalumeau) to the higher register (clarion).  Be cautious to not speed through this step.  Clarinet players are often asked at this stage of learning to read, finger and voice 10 or more new notes.  Their confidence in the lower register is crucial when beginning register leaps.  Again, lots of drilling with saying note names out loud and fingering is going to help the students to learn to be musically literate in these registers.  

High Notes Long Tones

High Notes Long Tones give students the opportunity to play these new high notes in sustained exercises.  Again, note naming and fingering out loud, and other drills for music literacy on these notes can’t be overlooked.  Add simple rhythms to these sustained note exercises to work on the articulation component of this new register.  The sides of the tongue should be high in the mouth for proper voicing.  Continue to monitor their embouchures, there should be very little to no change and certainly not jaw movement when articulating.

Simple High Notes Songs

Once students are successful in holding out the higher notes with good tone, and showing good control in articulating in the register, they can play simple songs.  Simple High Note Songs are a way for students to play melodies without needing to cross the break.  These exercises are exclusively above third space C in the treble clef.  They can work on their musical literacy as well as tone and pitch on these exercises.  Don’t forget to continue the drilling of note names and fingerings through this section of exercises to monitor comprehension.

Over the Break Technique

Lastly, students will build technique going back and forth over the break.  Many of these exercises can be more successful if students are also taught when to keep the right hand down.  These exercises should be played as slow as needed for success.  The tempo should never be more important than the accuracy of the exercises. An additional, printable resource from Habits Universal: Clarinet Register Break Exercises.

All of these exercises are crucial for the confidence of clarinets going forward. Many students quit playing because they thought that they weren’t a good player, when in reality, not enough time was given to their development of these skills.  I use many of these skills in my beginning of the year reviews for my more advanced players.  Having the ability to print the music for the entire ensemble allows other sections to work on long tone and range development along with the clarinets.  

I hope that these exercises are helpful to you in this format and appreciate the opportunity to share them with you!  Best of luck for a successful year with your clarinets! 

Christine Wolf serves as the Director of Bands at Central Davis Junior High. Mrs. Wolf teaches beginning woodwinds, brass, and percussion classes, as well as advanced percussion, concert band, symphonic band, jazz band, and music exploration classes. She is the President of the Utah Bandmasters Association as well as the Music Education Advocacy Chair for the Utah Music Educators Association where she has organized and produced Utah Music on the Hill events on behalf of raising awareness for music education. She was named one of School Band and Orchestra Magazine’s 50 Directors Who Make a Difference in 2017. Mrs. Wolf has received numerous National Band Association Citation of Excellence awards. She has been a contributing author for the UMEA Journal and is an active clinician across the United States with honor bands, summer camps, and adjudicating at festivals.

Get the best from MakeMusic

Discover practical music tips, delivered directly to you!

Sign up