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 read “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.