Crossing the Break

Crossing the break, or the transition between your lower and middle registers of the clarinet, can be challenging, especially if you're just starting out with learning how to play the clarinet.

In this video demonstrating the registers of the clarinet, the "break" that we'll be talking about occurs between the chalumeau and the clarinet registers:

You can hear that there's a big difference in timbre (tone quality) between the two registers. When you go up to the middle register, you put down you register key, which raises the pitch of a note that has the same fingering minus the register key up a 12th, or an octave plus a 5th (i.e. low E + register key = middle B)

Scales are a good example of something you'll have to go over the break to play. If you're playing your G Major scale, between throat A and the B above it you over the break. In the F scale, between throat B-flat and C you have to go over the break as well.

Practice crossing the break with your 12 major scales.

A good way to start going over the break is to practice simply going from your lower chalumeau to your middle clarion registers. Make sure you can comfortably play a low note and put down your register key to make a higher note.

Going over the break from the throat tones can be challenging at first. Have you ever tried to play with just the top half of the clarinet? If you have, maybe you've noticed that the throat tones sound exactly the same whether or not you have the bottom joint and bell attached or not. That's because throat tones like open G, A, and B-flat only use the top half of the clarinet. Notes like B and C in the clarion register, however, require ALL of the length of the clarinet because all of the holes are covered. Going over the break involves the transition between an open note and a closed note.


These tips will help you in crossing the break. They will focus on the transition from A to B, but you can use these tips for other note combinations as well, such as A to C, B-flat to B, B-flat to C, and others.

Tips for Crossing the Break

  • Make sure you're blowing enough fast air to make the B work. B requires more fast air than A to work, so try starting on B a few times so you know what it feels like, and then play A to B. Play both notes with the same air you used when you just started on the B.
  • Keep your embouchure still when you are crossing the break.
  • One way to practice placing your fingers down together is to lift them up before you put them down. Float your fingers up slightly and then move them down onto the holes. Moving your fingers like that helps them to be more coordinated and also keeps you from having too much tension in your hands. You can even use this outside of your practice if you want to smooth out slurred legato notes.
  • Check your hand position on the A key. If you don’t smoothly move your index finger from the key to the hole, you may hear a blip between the A and the B. To prevent this, rock your finger between the A key and the hole. It’s a really subtle move, and you shouldn’t have to lift your finger up very far. Make sure your index finger is curved. Don’t slide your finger down from the key, because this makes blips.  
  • When you’re playing A, you leave the hole and register key open. Keep your thumb hovering above the thumb hole, instead of resting it on the wood of the clarinet. Never rest your thumb on the wood of the clarinet below the thumb hole. If you do that, you’re adding unnecessary movement to get your thumb back to the hole and it also messes up your left hand position. So, keep your left thumb over the hole, pointing diagonally at this post. When you go to play the B, simply place it over the hole and register key.