What Is Clarinet Embouchure?

Laura Metz

Clarinet embouchure is the position of a player’s mouth when playing the clarinet. Every wind instrument has a proper embouchure for achieving the best sound. A clarinet player must hold the mouthpiece firmly enough to control the sound but loosely enough to allow easy vibration of the reed.

Embouchure refers to the position of a player's mouth on the mouthpiece.
Embouchure refers to the position of a player's mouth on the mouthpiece.

The clarinet is a single-reed instrument, like the saxophone, in which the vibration of the reed produces sound. Clarinetists attach a reed held on to the mouthpiece with a ligature, which is typically made of metal or leather. Both reed and ligature must be properly placed in order to play the instrument and avoid squeaking.

Proper clarinet embouchure is essential for good tone and tuning. If the mouthpiece is held correctly, a clarinetist should be able to play the full range of the instrument without adjusting it. A good quality mouthpiece and barrel played with correct clarinet embouchure should produce a high F-sharp.

Embouchure and tone also depend on the angle the instrument is held. That angle is slightly different among various players because of the placement of each person’s teeth, but in general the bell of the clarinet should hover between the clarinetist’s knees or slightly closer to his or her body. The weight of the instrument should rest on the right thumb, not the mouth.

In order to achieve optimal clarinet embouchure, clarinetists often play long tones while watching themselves in a mirror. The bottom lip should act as a cushion between the middle of the reed and the lower teeth, and the upper lip will seal the mouth so that all the air goes into the instrument. Facial muscles should be tight and the chin flat, keeping the mouthpiece secure.

Many beginning players have difficulties determining how much of the mouthpiece to have in their mouth. Too little mouthpiece may result in a weak tone, while too much usually causes squeaking. The lower lip should typically rest where the reed and mouthpiece meet. Clarinetists often find the proper place by slowly moving the mouthpiece in and out until they discover where the best sound is.

Another clarinet embouchure problem for many beginning players occurs when they stop the reed from vibrating by having a too tight embouchure or by misplacing the tongue. The reed must be allowed to vibrate freely or there will be no sound. On the other hand, a loose embouchure can result in air and spit escaping out the sides of the mouthpiece as well as puffy cheeks, all of which cause squeaking.

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