Category Archives: Clarinet

Clarinet Tip #7: Embouchure

I played quite a lot of Clarinet when I was young, and wasn’t too bad at it. Then I stopped; for about 20 years. Then I started again. I found that I’d forgotten lots. Even worse, I discovered that there was a lot basic stuff that I should have learned, but hadn’t.

So thought I’d share a few of the things I should have learned when I started, but didn’t; until now.

Embouchure is probably the most important part of clarinet playing to get right.

A common problem in playing the clarinet is “jaw bite”, which shorten’s the amplitude of reed vibration and is hard to keep up for long.

How to form a good clarinet embouchure:

  1. Close the lips; holding them together easily.
  2. Drop your jaw 1 cm; with the lips still touching – the center of the bottom lip should feel soft and the end of the chin should feel hard
  3. Stand against a wall until the back of the head touches it.
  4. Do not drop your head.
  5. Bring the mouthpiece up – not your head down
  6. Keep the lips touching each other – try to form a puckered smile (not a kiss), keep the red of the lower lip turned out.
  7. The lower lip should be cupped into a miniature smile; no wider than the end of the reed.
  8. Puncture lips with the mouthpiece
  9. Lips must stand above the teeth – not rest against them. The teeth should only support the lips if your lips are very fatigued.
  10. Snug up mouthpiece under the top teeth – do not open up the lips or jaw to open more.
  11. Blow – freely through the throat, not squeezed through tight lips, do not puff cheeks.

I thought I knew what to do, until I readĀ “The Art of Clarinet Playing” by Keith Stein. There’s a whole chapter on the embouchure in the book, which I oversimplified here. So really, you should get the book yourself and read it.

Clarinet Tip #6: Don’t Pick A Hard Reed

I played quite a lot of Clarinet when I was young, and wasn’t too bad at it. Then I stopped; for about 20 years. Then I started again. I found that I’d forgotten lots. Even worse, I discovered that there was a lot basic stuff that I should have learned, but hadn’t.

So thought I’d share a few of the things I should have learned when I started, but didn’t; until now.

Hard reeds are not better.

I used to think that as you got better, you gradually increase the hardness of the reed you use. This is only true for absolute beginners.

Once you are using reeds with a hardness around 2-3, then you should choose them so that they suit the combination of you, your mouthpiece, and your instrument.

Experienced players, who know how to adjust reeds (with things like a knife, and dutch rush), might choose reeds slightly harder than what they play so they are about right when adjusted to suit.

Clarinet Tip #5: Use Almond Oil

I played quite a lot of Clarinet when I was young, and wasn’t too bad at it. Then I stopped; for about 20 years. Then I started again. I found that I’d forgotten lots. Even worse, I discovered that there was a lot basic stuff that I should have learned, but hadn’t.

So thought I’d share a few of the things I should have learned when I started, but didn’t; until now.

Previously, I used bore oil that came with my clarinet to oil my clarinet, until I took my instrument to a highly recommended instrument repairer named Steve Giordano. He took one look at the oil and said “Don’t use that stuff, just get some Almond oil from a health food shop.”

I don’t know why it’s better, but in the absence of a reason to not follow his advice, I now use Almond oil.

Clarinet Tip #4: Cheating over the break

I played quite a lot of Clarinet when I was young, and wasn’t too bad at it. Then I stopped; for about 20 years. Then I started again. I found that I’d forgotten lots. Even worse, I discovered that there was a lot basic stuff that I should have learned, but hadn’t.

So thought I’d share a few of the things I should have learned when I started, but didn’t; until now.

Cheating

Keep the fingers of your right hand down if you are playing a G up to a Bb.

This makes it much easier to cross the break since you don’t have to synchronise as many fingers to cover holes at the same time.

I discovered this myself, before reading about it, when I was starting to play again after many years. I found that, due to a serious injury, the outer 3 fingers of my right hand were weak and uncoordinated. I cheat like this all the time now as I need all the help I can get to play acceptably with these fingers.

Clarinet Tip #3: Get a Good Mouthpiece

I played quite a lot of Clarinet when I was young, and wasn’t too bad at it. Then I stopped; for about 20 years. Then I started again. I found that I’d forgotten lots. Even worse, I discovered that there was a lot basic stuff that I should have learned, but hadn’t.

So thought I’d share a few of the things I should have learned when I started, but didn’t; until now.

Get a Good Mouthpiece

If you still have the mouthpiece that came with the clarinet, you probably should get a new one. It is much better to have a medium quality clarinet with good mouthpiece, than it is to have a great clarinet with an unsuitable mouthpiece.

I read about thisĀ in “The Art of Clarinet Playing” by Keith Stein, then decided to get a new mouthpiece myself.

I rang up a local music instrument shop and asked if they would let me come in an try a bunch of mouthpieces. They said yes, so I brought my instrument in, with some decent reeds. Then tried a bunch of mouthpieces.

The mouthpiece should be selected on four criteria (in order of importance):

  1. Intonation
  2. Tone Quality
  3. “Security” from squeaks
  4. Response – how it feels to blow

Everyone will be different, so you need to try some out for yourself.

Clarinet Tip #2: Relax

I played quite a lot of Clarinet when I was young, and wasn’t too bad at it. Then I stopped; for about 20 years. Then I started again. I found that I’d forgotten lots. Even worse, I discovered that there was a lot basic stuff that I should have learned, but hadn’t.

So thought I’d share a few of the things I should have learned when I started, but didn’t; until now.

Relaxation

A common problem when playing the clarinet, is that the fingers are too tense. Lots of other muscles are tense too.

If you can learn to relax everything, except only those muscles that need to be strong, then you will play much better and have greater control over your fingers.

The muscles of the embouchure, and the muscles around the right thumb – supporting the weight of the instrument – should be the only tense muscles. Everything else should be relaxed.

Do this: experiment to see how lightly you can press your fingers down on keys and holes and still make the note sound without any problems. You will be surprised how light you can go. When you start using minimal pressure, you can start to feel the vibrations of the notes in your fingers. This is a good sign. So go on, experiment!