Making Sure Your Clarinets Have a Proper Embouchure

In the heat of teaching beginning band students, it is easy to overlook developmentally subtle details. Making sure your clarinets have and maintain..

Clarinet Embouchure

In the heat of teaching beginning band students, it is easy to overlook developmentally subtle details. Making sure your clarinets have and maintain a proper embouchure is worth the time and effort you invest. Today we are going to review and reinforce the foundational practice for developing the ideal clarinet embouchure.

To Review

Remember it is important to use the best posture and holding position whenever you are playing the clarinet. Be sure to sit up straight but avoid being too tense. This often occurs when students raise their shoulders. Regular reminders about staying relaxed is key to stronger technique.

Students should be reminded to have their legs straight in front of them as they sit. Feet should be flat on the floor and shoulder blades should feel relaxed as the torso of the body is straight.

When students play, they should focus on a relaxed airstream by opening-up their throat and filling up their lungs from the bottom up. As the air is used to play, the airstream should remain cold, fast, and well-supported. This act of inhalation and exhalation should be practiced regularly with and without a metronome.

The Clarinet Embouchure

The term embouchure is a fancy way of describing how all the parts of the mouth work together to create a characteristic sound on the Clarinet. The embouchure is vitally important part of playing any brass or woodwind instrument.

The best way to work on embouchure development is to piece together the mouthpiece, ligature, barrel, and reed. This portion of the clarinet is often coined as the “Set-Up.” Using the “Set-Up” helps to avoid students having to deal with any unnecessary complications the remainder of the clarinet body could potentially fabricate.

Next, directors or private teachers should check to see that the student has successfully completed the set-up process. This includes a check to see if the reed is moistened and is in alignment.

Now that the “Set-Up” is properly pieced together, take the right hand and use it to simulate the proper position of the instrument with the mouth.

Steps to for a Proper Embouchure

  • Start by placing the top teeth on the topside of the mouthpiece. This should only be a little of the way past the tip. Probably less than an inch.
  • Next, roll a portion of the lower lip over the bottom teeth. The reed should come in contact with this part of the lip in middle portion of the shaved off section of the reed. If you look at the mouthpiece and see where the curve of the mouthpiece separates from the reed, this is an idea location to place the lower lip.
  • Third, the lips are simply going to close around the mouthpiece to create a seal. There is minimal pressure used to create this seal. Be sure not to squeeze or clamp down with the lips.
  • The “Set-Up” should be held at an approximate 45-degree angle. If this is done properly and the student is not clamping or squeezing their mouths shut, then he or she should be able blow across the reed and the through the “Set-Up” to create a sound that approximately registers an F# in pitch.

The Tongue

To create a generally good sound with the characteristic clarinet embouchure be sure to place the tongue in an “EEE” shape. When you do this with your students you should get a good sound however, you may hear two variations of the sound. 1) Students who play with a tongued attack and 2) students who play with an airy or throaty attack. I always recommend playing with a tongued attack.

Without trying to make the clarinet tonguing sound complicated, visually show students how this. Take the “Set-up” and visually show with your finger. Then discuss how the tongue is used on the clarinet. You need to play with the tip of the tongue - physically on the reed (still in the general “EEE” shape.) The act of releasing the tongue from the reed, with air supported behind it, and releasing the tongue from the reed creates the attack sound.

Practice

Practice creating a sound with the “Set-Up” and then with the instrument fully constructed. If students are having trouble doing this have them think as if they are placing (and using) one taste bud on the reed before they release the airstream which is supported behind it.  Once this is accomplished with a single attacked note then try to keep the air going so that a series of notes are created. The tongue will lightly touch the same location and a clear sound be created.

Problems

Generally, few beginning band classes come with clarinet players that don’t encounter any problems. Possible problems may arise due to warped reeds, bad mouthpiece cuts, broken reeds, or even worse moldy reeds. Fortunately, these types of problems can be fixed quickly by taking a trip to the music store.

Conclusion

Setting your clarinet players up for success starts with a firm handle on strong fundamentals. If you and your students follow the processes described here in creating and forming a proper clarinet embouchure, they will be freed up to focus on conquering more complex tasks in their performance craft. As music educators it is wise to not rush through this process and revisit proper embouchure formation on a regular basis.

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