- The Vintage Clarinet Doctor – Blog (Jeremy Soule): Clarinet Re-pad vs. Overhaul
- Jennet Ingle | Oboist: Five Thoughts on Returning to the Stage
- Joffe Woodwinds: The Dynamics of Breathing with Arnold Jacobs and David Cugell, M.D.
- Magic Reed (Kathy Sheinhouse): Geographical Considerations When Choosing An Oboe Reed Maker
- Best. Saxophone. Website. Ever. (10 Important Flute Tips For Saxophone Players ):
- Hodge Products, Inc.: Latest News (Rebecca Watson): BASSOON WIRE GAUGE: DOES IT MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
- Jenny Maclay (clarinet): The Science of Squeaking – What Your Squeaks are Trying to Tell You
- Just Flutes Blog (Chris Hankin): International Women’s Day – Fabulous Works by Female Composers
- Jenny Maclay (clarinet): 101 Clarinet Compositions Written by Women Composers
- joanmf.com (Joan Martí-Frasquier, saxophone): Women Composers
- Jennet Ingle | Oboist: The Magic of a PLAN
- The Theisen Journal – Alan Theisen, musician (saxophone): Issue No. 22: Kill Your Teacher
- Practice Monster (David Pope, saxophone): The Greatest Saxophonists in the World – and how the very idea is harming us
- Just Flutes Blog (Roderick Seed): “Can you play it in one breath?”
- International Clarinet Association (Barbara Heilmair): Collaboration with Boehm and Oehler Clarinets
- Joffe Woodwinds (article by Ron Odrich): Science in the Art of the Clarinet Sound
- Hodge Products, Inc. Double Reed Supplies Blog (Rebecca Watson): Bassoon Wire Gauge: Does It Make a Difference?
- How To Make Oboe Reeds (Tim Feil): Reed Response
- Jennet Ingle | Oboist: Harder Isn’t Better
- International Clarinet Association (Marcus Eley): Clarinet Works by Black Composers
- International Clarinet Association (Katherine Breeden): An Overview of Making Clarinet Reeds by Hand
- Bill Plake Music (saxophone): Awareness In Playing Music: “Looking For” In Contrast To “Noticing”
- Indy Flute Shop (Erin Nichols): Open-holed flutes
- Best. Saxophone. Website. Ever. (Zhenya Strigalev): The Secret to Reaching Below the Saxophone’s Low Bb
As a ten-year-old beginning saxophonist, I was taught to form an embouchure like this:
- Put your top teeth on the mouthpiece
- Let your lower lip sort of roll or squish over your lower teeth
- Close your mouth
That’s how I played for years. As I advanced and started to practice more, I would sometimes hurt the inside of my lower lip, drawing blood or forming blisters or scar tissue. I considered this a badge of honor: I practiced until I bled.
But I don’t play that way anymore, nor do I teach students that way. I made an important change to my embouchure that lets me play for extended periods pain- and blood-free, while sounding better and having more control.
The problem with the lower-lip-over-the-teeth approach is that it sets the lower lip up to serve as a sacrificial cushion, to protect the reed from the lower teeth. Sure, you can just tell your students to “stop biting,” but if you’re teaching them an embouchure that’s based on biting, then good luck.
It’s more useful to think of the embouchure this way:
- Put your top teeth on the mouthpiece
- Let your jaw hang open a bit, so your lower teeth stay clear of the reed
- Keep your jaw open, and allow your lips to close around the mouthpiece and reed.
This approach makes sure the lips are used to form the embouchure, not the jaw. It improves tone, response, dynamic range, and more, and virtually eliminates lower lip pain.
If you are used to a jaw-formed embouchure concept, you might find that switching to the lip-formed embouchure leaves you feeling like you’ve lost some control of pitch and tone. If so, double-check your breath support; with the jaw out of the way you will need to depend on those support muscles more for stability.
Don’t play through pain—use a better approach.
I’m pleased to share videos from my recent Delta State University faculty recital. I performed for a very small in-person audience due to COVID-19 precautions.
All the repertoire is unaccompanied. The program begins with multiple-woodwinds repertoire by Samuel Adler, Kyle Tieman-Strauss, and Nicole Chamberlain (a world premiere of a commissioned piece), followed by some odds and ends on recorders, clarinet, and tinwhistles.
The question of whether the clarinet should use vibrato has been argued to death, and I won’t pursue the question further here. Suffice it to say that it’s a matter of taste and a matter of tradition.
American and European classical clarinetists usually don’t use it. Why that particular quirk of taste and/or tradition has taken hold probably can’t be pinned down for certain. But there are some weak theories that are worth retiring for good:
- That the clarinet’s sound is somehow special or has unique properties that make vibrato unnecessary or undesirable.
- That vibrato cannot be artistically executed on the clarinet.
- That the orchestra just “needs” a vibrato-less sound, and clarinetists happened to step up to volunteer.
I don’t see any reason to believe that the clarinet is uniquely unsuited to vibrato, or that there’s anything inherently “right” about the clarinet being vibrato-free.
Among proponents of clarinet vibrato, there is disagreement about which body part(s) produce the effect—the lips? the diaphragm? the cheeks? This is essentially a settled matter among clarinetists’ closest cousins, saxophonists, who nearly universally produce vibrato with jaw movement. I find this to be the only really viable option on the clarinet, as well, since it can be manipulated mostly independently of tone, response, intonation, and dynamics (by maintaining stable embouchure and breath support).
As to why vibrato hasn’t become standard in the clarinet world, my best theory is that the clarinet’s unique high voicing is relatively easily disrupted by jaw vibrato. While it’s very possible to do clarinet jaw vibrato well, it does take some care to do it without destabilizing the voicing and causing pitch and tone instability. I suspect that over the centuries clarinetists have found this to be a mild deterrent, and instead have leaned into clear, vibrato-less tone as a virtue.
In any case, some classical clarinetists have used it with great success, but the prevailing tradition is a pure and un-embellished tone, without even a trace of vibrato.
- Steve Neff Music Blog: The Best Saxophone Embouchure: Where’s that Bottom Lip?
- Jazz-Sax.Com: Pedalboard 4.0
- ProneOboe (Jennet Ingle): When to Cheat
- Jenny Maclay (clarinet): Should you take a practice break? and 21 Clarinet Compositions from the 21st Century