Playing Tips: Clarinet

Playing and Performance Tips for the Clarinetist

1) Embouchure
The most common problem I see is that the lower lip is rolled too far over the bottom teeth. The reed should rest on the pink part of the lower lip with just enough lip rolled over the teeth to make it comfortable. when I make this adjustment the sound becomes richer, more focused and intonation is improved.

The mouth should not be drawn back into a smile, but the lips, rather, surround the mouthpiece. Thus pressure comes from all sides instead of from the top and bottom only.

The top teeth should rest lightly on the top of the mouthpiece.

The upper lip should be rolled under against the upper teeth but drawn down to the top of the mouthpiece. The upper lip should not go under the upper teeth. The upper embouchure is important for control and further refinement of sound.

2) Sound
Sound in my mind is second only in importance to rhythm. Sound should be dark, rich, centered and full. Diaphragmatic support is essential. Start with demanding a good sound on scales, They should be done slowly and listened to carefully for sound and pitch. Mostly sound is taught by demonstration. I try to play duets with all my students. It is amazing to me that even a fourth grader can begin to grasp what a decent sound is after a couple of weeks.

3) Hand position
The thumbs have it! Incorrect thumb position throws off the whole hand. The left thumb should never be straight up and down, but at a 45 degree angle to the clarinet. The thumb rest should be between the nail and the knuckle of the right thumb. This may not be possible with beginners. Make sure that the left index finger rolls from first space F sharp to third space A. Hands should be relaxed and fingers curved. Knuckles should not be bent back. Fingertips should not point into the tone-holes, or be placed flat across them, but gently curved.

4) Technique
Good technique is essential. Many students try to play too fast too soon. I stress slowing a passage down and keeping it there until it is even and under control. This helps the muscle memory in the fingers, and also helps the ears to have a chance to hear. This helps with scales, too. Also, instead of correcting a wrong note by immediately playing the correct one, go back a few notes and then play beyond the mistake. That way the fingers will learn the correct pattern.

Some students want to play everything safely slow. I have to challenge them to play faster by example. Use of a metronome is a great way to even out technique. I recommend it for all students.

5) Ear Training
It is never too early to help students become aware of pitch. The altissimo register is often high on student model clarinets. Throat tones can be flat or sharp. If throat tones are flat because the barrel has been pulled out, push that in and pull out at the bell, If throat tones are sharp, keep the right hand down. A reed that is too soft may result in flat playing and high notes not speaking.

6) Sight Reading
Sight reading is important and must be practiced. I play duets with my students often, or have them read new material alone.

7) Rhythm
l teach rhythm with a combination of tapping the foot and counting the numbers for the notes. I have them count it for me, and I rarely play a rhythm for them. Rote teaching of rhythm does not work well.

8) Performance
To perform successfully, a clarinetist must be well prepared and comfortable with the music. Much of it is mental. A positive attitude can help. Go for it! Such mind sets as “I can do this.” or “It isn’t the end of the world if I miss one note.” can help. Prepare thoroughly, put it in perspective, and talk to yourself (tell yourself how good you are). Keep the reed wet! That is why it is sometimes hard to play in church.

Linda Farrell
Copyright 1998