Jaw Pain

I am an adult who has been playing the clarinet and saxophone for the past 2.5 years, during which time I have twice developed pain in my right jaw. Do you know of any reasons why certain kinds of standard mouthpiece and read combinations (i.e. medium strength reeds and medium mouthpiece facings) might cause such a problem? The problem seems to occur with somewhat more resistant mouthpiece facings (but hardly anything extreme), even if I compensate with a softer reed. Specifically, the combinations that seem to have given me trouble are a Morgan RM-10 or RM-15 mouthpiece with a medium to medium-soft reed (such as Vandoren 2.5 or light 3) on clarinet, and a Selmer S-80 “D” mouthpiece and a Vandoren 2.5 reed on alto saxophone. I like these combinations because I like sounds and because they are relatively easy to blow and articulate with. I have other high-quality mouthpiece brands with closer facings for the clarinet , which don’t seem to cause any discomfort; but I either have to use heavier reeds, which I find hard to blow, or I don’t like the sounds as much. As far as my teachers and I been able to determine, I don’t have any obvious outward signs of physical imbalances, and I my playing position appears acceptable. Thank you.

Your question is probably asked by any reasonably serious clarinetist and/or saxophonist. It has happened to all of us, and for many different reasons. Without having an opportunity to speak with you about the problem or to observe you play, one can almost rule out specific brands of mouthpieces and/or reeds, especially if they are a recognized commodity.

Why? Because they are inanimate objects. They have no cognizance and really no bearing on the problem, which is all you, the player. I remember once, when having some of the same kinds of jaw problems I determined that if we were physically adept at putting foreign objects into the mouth for long periods of time, well then we would be born with these objects in place.

Over simplification? But it DOES say that it is the player who develops the embouchure so that it can play with a consistent sound and absolute minimal discomfort.

A. they can roll cigarette papers over their front lower teeth so that the sharpness is covered. or

B. they can go to their dentists and have the dentist either smooth off the offending sharp teeth, or even have a thin silver piece moulded to conform to the teeth that the player wear whenever he plays.

I have seen all of these procedures used by professional clarinetists and saxophonist repeatedly throughout the years. It is part of their routine and they become extremely adept at changing these things during a concert, if need be.

My own solution to pain within the jaw or teeth or on the lower lip was partially philosophical: I determined that I was playing incorrectly if I had pain and that I would therefore make pain an issue in my search for a professional career. I found that by using medium reeds on a medium tip opening and length mouthpiece is absolutely imperative to me, and I will tell you, to my students as well.

I also found that in developing the embouchure you play until the pain starts, then you take a break.

I further determined that too much mouthpiece inside the mouth can cause problems: either you play too sharp and lose control, you start squeaking and in general experience discomfort of some kind

I further hypothesized that playing the instrument (physically) fingers, lips, teeth, support should be as effortless as possible. Determining this, I began to work on all aspects of performing and playing the clarinets with ease.

There is a possibility that your right thumb may be causing the problem. Check your playing position: right thumb rests the instrument directly on the thumb but not the thumbnail. And certainly not in the second joint of the right thumb.

You change this not by the thumb changing, but by keeping the above position, and turning the mouthpiece slightly one way of the other until you achieve a relaxed hand position; correct, but relaxed

In your question you state that you have had only two painful times playing your instrument(s); if that is indeed true, it is not too bad.

You could have wisdom teeth problems, depending upon how old an adult you are. You also be be using too much upward pressure of the teeth causing you to be experiencing “biting”.

Very few players have absolutely perfect playing position, most have to do some compensation in order to make up for a particular physical problem in playing. The position of the right thumb can be crucial

All of the above have to be tried, and only you can tell. When you achieve relative comfort playing, you can easily determine what sound you like and you can make that sound in time. Thanks for you question. I hope I have been of some help to you.

Part 2

Regarding the proper amount of mouthpiece insertion, again my response is one of sound, pitch, control and comfort, I think in that order.

My own formulation as a student was “as little mouthpiece in the mouth as to be able to play all of the notes available on the clarinet without pinching or biting”.

I studied briefly with Gino Cioffi, principal of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the late 50’s and 60’s. He took as little mouthpiece within his mouth as anyone I have ever seen and he could easily play altissimo C … the highest one.

Although, not for everything, I used him as a model. there is another of my articles that speaks of Gino and mouthpieces.

Simply speaking, go with the sound!! Check the pitch, and go with the sound … and I might add, the control. If you cannot control it, chances are you cannot play it.

Daniel Bonade said that a new mouthpiece should be expected to sound and feel better immediately. I KIND of go along with that.

My best mouthpiece was picked out by my wife. I was trying South American crystal mouthpieces and she said, “What’s that?”. I told her, and she said “Keep it.”

I did and I got famous … well almost. A student knocked over my clarinet during an intermission of a chamber music and I never got back that feeling, or that sound, and that, Sir, is the truth.

Best from Sherman


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