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submission Easy Routes Around Three Common

Clarinet “Road Blocks” Eric Hansen, Green Bay

Throughout my six years as the clarinet professor at UW- Green Bay, I have enjoyed teaching a broad age range of clarinet students in music camps, honor bands, sectionals, master classes and

individual lessons. Regardless of their age, students occasionally struggle with common playing-related problems, or “road blocks,” that create frustration and impact performance. Fortunately the solutions for three of these problems are simple to recognize and easily teachable to students.

Clarinet Road Block #1: Using the Stock Mouthpiece That Came With the Clarinet Unquestionably, the mouthpiece sig- nificantly affects the way a clarinet plays. Stock mouthpieces are not designed to yield the results a good quality mouthpiece can produce. With just a $35-$85 mouth- piece upgrade, students will notice an immediate boost in tone quality, response, intonation and playing ease, even on a plastic beginner model clarinet.

“A $35-$85 mouthpiece upgrade will im- mediately improve tone quality, response and intonation – even on a plastic begin- ner model clarinet.”

Local and online music retailers often sell good inexpensive mouthpieces that are well worth the small investment. Some models that work well for me include the Roger Garrett “DL” and “D”; the Van- doren “B-45,” “M-13” and “5-RV”; and the Pyne “Poly-Crystal.” However, many other good brands and models exist, and I recommend students try several to find one with good response that feels easy to play. Keep in mind that a new mouthpiece may


require a stronger reed to play properly. If you are a music educator, ask your local music store to put a model of mouthpiece you’ve selected into all the cases of rental program clarinets for your students. This may slightly raise the monthly instrument rental fee for parents, but it will dramati- cally increase each student’s chance of success in your ensembles.

Clarinet Road Block #2: Using an Embouchure That Prevents the Reed From Vibrating Freely The ideal clarinet embouchure is similar in shape to whistling across an open bottle, and it provides four basic functions:

1. A lip seal around the mouthpiece to prevent leaking air

2. A stable bottom support for the reed and mouthpiece (lower lip stretched gently over lower teeth and upper teeth touching the top side of the mouthpiece)

3. An adequate lack of jaw or lip pressure to allow the reed to vibrate freely

4. A means to accelerate and focus the air as it moves into the mouthpiece (tongue should be in the position as if saying “TEE”).

When playing, students tend to bite on the reed with their jaw or bunch their chin upward, thereby closing the reed against the mouthpiece and preventing it from vibrating freely. Students also often play with very little reed actually in their mouth, which further impedes reed vibration and makes high-register notes nearly impossible to produce. Regarding the tongue, students sometimes incorrectly play with an “AH” or “OH” syllable, which flattens the pitch and spreads the tone’s focus apart.

“The ideal clarinet embouchure is similar in shape to whistling across an open bottle.”

“The path to achieving a rich resonant clarinet tone and a beautiful high register begins by developing a reliable, yet flexible, embouchure.”

Once students learn to allow the reed vibrate freely and to focus the air flow with their tongue, the door is opened to further accomplishment on the clarinet. The path to achieving a rich resonant clarinet tone and a beautiful high register begins by developing a reliable, yet flex- ible, embouchure.

Clarinet Road Block #3: Improper Articulation Students of all ages erroneously add excess tongue movements, jaw movements, or even air pulsations to the process of articulation. Some mistakenly think “attacking” the reed with the tongue makes it vibrate and create sound. The fact that surprises many students is: the tongue only touches the reed during silence, and it releases the reed to allow sound to occur.

Clarinet articulation is a relatively simple physical process. The reed will vibrate when enough air passes over it (assuming the jaw is not biting the reed closed). When the tip of the tongue lightly touches the tip of the reed, sound halts temporarily. The secret is: the air needs to keep mov- ing continuously. To play, simply release the reed with the tongue to let the reed vibrate again.

January 2012

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