Clarinet and Mouthpiece Questions

They tell us to give a little background. I’m a graduate student living in Miami FL (not music). I played clarinet in junior high and high school but until a few months ago only occasionally since. I’m not very good (I don’t think I ever was, really.) however I find it very relaxing and enjoyable so I play (it’s kind of a favorite toy – no sarcasm for that confession). The instrument I have in Miami is a Buffet something or other. My guess is an R-13 but the model was the least of my concerns when I got it. I followed the advice of my teacher and band director. It’s a good quality professional instrument so it can’t be blamed for my problems (unless it just wants the clarinet equivalent of a tune-up, probably it does).

My mouthpiece is a puzzle. The one I always used with that instrument doen’t have the name of a manufacturer just a nearly unintelligable signature, R. Bo somemething that could be anything of about two letters the second with a loop h I think (R. Bo**h). Can you tell me what it might be? The high school band director insisted that I get it with the Buffet. I also just brought the B45 from my student clarinet back after the holidays. It’s a little easier to play (I think) and i can’t make up my mind about the sound. (Hampered by the fact that I’m working on getting a really consistent good tone and accurate intonation). Should I get something else? I read what you’ve written and have considered a Vandoren M13. What’s the difference with the lyre model? Which would I want? Why?

Next question. On my Vito clarinet (over my break in Utah) I have no trouble at all with any of the practical range but on the Buffet I often do. They sound great (well, almost as good as any other notes) when I slur up to them but when I am playing them from a fourth or more away or tonguing them I get out of tune pitches from below the register break allong with them and sometimes they don’t sound at all. When they do play without the foghorn undertones they’re nice though. I don’t remember having this problem when I learned before, just squeaks. Concentrating on my embouchure helps, as does reed choice and placement but I think the problem is pretty much me. I’ve tried working on long tones in all ranges (of course, I’m working on a steady beautiful tone). It seems to be improving their quality but not my consistent ability to play them when they come up in music.

Thank you for your help. Also thank you for posting your answers to others; many of them have been helpful or at least entertaining. I tried a double lip embouchure. I can’t get a tolerable sound that way no matter what I try. It tends to be too loose and uncontrolled, also leaky. (It also hurts both my upper lip and right wrist). I won’t give up trying for a few minutes whaen I practice. I think I may be biting. I probably did in high school; I played rather hard (4) reeds.

Thanks again and sorry this is so long.


Dear Ms. J’Lene:

Thank you for your note concerning your problems with the clarinet.

You mention the following as problem areas:

1. Clarinet condition
2. Mouthpiece – which to play?
3. Performing legato intervals / Building embouchure
4. Double-lip embouchure
5. Building a good sound.

1. The clarinet upon which you play ought to be your own instrument. If you are a beginning student with two different instruments, they will deter from one another. One should always assure that one’s instrument is in working order and all pads are tight and placed well in the clarinet. Do not fight with the instrument.

2. I would use neither the mouthpiece you own or the Vandoren B45. Get yourself a new one. Use a mouthpiece that is a medium lay, medium everything including resistance. You ought to stay with either Vandoren or Selmer. They make the best mouthpieces, better than the other makes. Choose the one that plays easiest for you. Use medium reeds.

3. Double-lip is not for you presently unless you intend to use it all the time. It is the most natural embouchure for the clarinet, however if you use reeds that are too hard you will bleed to death, and you must not bang your fingers when you play with just the lips holding the instrument, for in that case each finger bang will give you discomfort. This embouchure must take time to develop, sometimes a long time, but I repeat it is the best and the most natural.

4. The best way to develop a good sound with a proper embouchure is to play legato intervals from the bottom of the clarinet to reasonably high notes. Here is how: Start with low “E”; play for 15 seconds, then middle C, with the best legato you can muster, no spaces between notes, equal sound and in tune, all legato. If you now are out of breath, breathe, then down to low F then D utilizing the same legato connected quality. Do this until you reach E on the fourth space of the staff. You will have to breathe frequently, no problem. You should experience a comfortable fatigue in the corners of your mouth. REST, then start with that E, and go up to the C, then down to D, etc. Stop after 30 minutes or so and rest, really rest your chops. You must remember to be discerning, to listen, to be your own commentator on your quality. If it sounds bad, stop and determine why.

Remeber this takes time, and it becomes part of a routine. Don’t switch to different instruments, mouthpieces and the like, and LISTEN, Listen!!

Thanks and good luck


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