1. Take the mouthpiece off of the instrument.
2. You’ll notice that the reed is separated from the mouthpiece at the tip but eventually meets the mouthpiece.
Take a pencil and mark exactly where the reed meets the mouthpiece. This is where you will want to put your bottom lip on the reed.
3. Look in a Mirror
4. Pretend you are drinking a milk shake from a straw- notice how your chin becomes flat and smooth
5. Keep chin flat and roll bottom lip over bottom teeth just enough for approx. 6-8 mm of lip to be taken in. QUICK TIP: You can buy Ezo denture cushions from a drug store and put a piece over your bottom teeth if your teeth are a little jagged. It will cushion the lip so that you’re not bleeding at the end of a practice sesssion!
6. Place top teeth on the top of the mouthpiece- This is where a mouthpiece patch becomes handy (as shown in the to the left).
7. Upper lip should come down onto mouthpiece with a firm grip
8.TONGUE POSITION! Think eeee or shhhh. Your tongue should be high in your mouth similar to when you say the word “leash.” Feel how the tongue raises in the mouth. The sides of the tongue are touching the upper molars in the back. The tip of the tongue should meet the tip of the reed.
I describe the relaxed throat, high tongue, and tip of the tongue to the tip of the reed to students by telling them to sing a low note (aaaaaaahhhh), move the tongue up (while still singing the low note) to say eeee, and then touching the top tip of the reed with the top tip of the tongue (not under the tongue, not the end of the tongue, the top of the tip of the tongue) saying lee, lee, lee.
If you were to think of your tongue like the old Jell-O pudding pops, there are three parts to the tip of the tongue.
Articulate at the top of the tip. I will discuss the lee, lee, lee, later when I discuss articulation in detail.
Take a deep breath through the sides of the mouth WITHOUT moving your bottom lip or top teeth from the mouthpiece. This is how we breathe on the clarinet. We relax the corners of the mouth and then take a deep breath.
9. Close the corners firmly. When clarinetists become fatigued they usually start to leak air through the corners of the mouth.
10. Blow air into the horn. With mouthpiece alone student should produce a concert C on the piano. With the mouthpiece and barrel, it should be a concert F# on the top of the staff. Here is a link to a website called Clarinet Perfection and there is a discussion about differences in mouthpieces.
ALSO: AVOID PUFFING YOUR CHEEKS!
11. You want to make sure that the tone lasts for several seconds (at first try for four to eight seconds). If you hear a sudden stop in the sound, like “laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaT….” then suddenly no air is going through and the sound was cut off, this could mean that you’re clamping down on the reed and sealing the opening between the tip of the reed and the tip of the mouthpiece. Bring the jaw down by a couple of millimeters.
I want to take this moment to mention the gap between the upper and lower teeth. While you’re playing that concert F# with your mouthpiece and barrel, stop blowing air and slowly pull the mouthpiece out of your mouth. Notice in the mirror or with your tongue, the space between the upper set of teeth and the lower set. You want to focus at this point on consistency in that gap. If you feel the teeth getting closer together then that means you’re clamping down on the reed.
FOR WHAT NOT TO DO: This is a great page from Clarinet-Now.
For Students Coming from a Different Wind Instrument:
- Tongue placement should be stressed at this point because the clarinet tongue placement varies a great deal from some other instruments.
- On clarinet we say EEEEEEE or SHH. This places the tongue high in the mouth.
- I have found this to be a problem on occasion for students who are used to having the tongue low in the mouth. When they do so, this can cause squeaking or a very flat pitch throughout all the registers.
PRACTICING THE CORRECT EMBOUCHURE:
- Mirror-on stand and in practice sessions
- Focus on FLAT CHIN
- While you play an open G with clarinet right hand down (this means the index finger, the middle finger, and the ring finger of the right hand covering the tone holes), with your left hand hold down your chin
- Focus on saying “eeeee” with tongue
- Tight corners
- Pull upper lip down firm onto the top of the mouthpiece