Throat Leak

May 30, 2004

I am happy to have wandered onto this portion of the “sneezy” site this evening, as I think perhaps in all your experience you may have encountered someone else with a dilemma similar to mine.

I am a masters student in clarinet performance, and I have an endurance problem involving my throat/air production. When I play something particularly long or that demands a lot of control (the beginning of the Copland Concerto, for instance), it feels as if my throat is closing off, and it makes a scratching noise. It feels as if the air is determined to go everywhere but into the clarinet. Sometimes it causes my ears to pop, and it always renders finishing a performance scary, if not impossible.

I have received a little advice from random sources (none of my own teachers have experienced this problem themselves, or with other students). Some of what I have gleaned on my own follows:

move sound production farther forward to avoid undue pressure to the soft palate, which will leak air

simply support the breath better/lower

place the toungue farther forward in the mouth.

If you think that any of these have hit the mark, or you have other suggestions or referrals, please let me know. It is difficult to be just beginning a career as a clarinetist when I know that there is potential disaster in every performance.

Thank you in advance for responding 🙂


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Jaw Movement

May 30, 2004

Mr. Friedland:

I need some help. I have a terrible time keeping my jaw still, particularly when I go from the clarion to the chalumeau register. I have had this habit for a long time and I certainly need to break it. I have been playing for about 9 years, and I am currently in college studying at Drake University in Des Moines, IA. My setup is a Buffet R-13 with silver plated keys, Mitchell Lurie mouthpiece with a Rovner Light ligature, and on Vandoren V-12 reeds strength 3 1/2. My professor at Drake, Clarence Padilla, suggested that I play with a pocket mirror. I have been currently doing that for about a semester but nothing really has changed. I am trying to find out if there are any other techniques to use or any exercises that will help with this problem.

Thank you for your time.

– Chris Huls

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Embouchure Paralysis

May 30, 2004

I have a rather unique problem. After 40 years of playing the clarinet, I woke up one day (3 months ago) and had lost my embouchure. Control is very difficult and the instrument feels like a foreign object. I can’t even sustain an open G. I went to a neurologist, who suggested that I had strained the muscles and R&R is needed but I’m doubtful. I am completely baffled by this since I have never experienced anything like this. Do you have any thoughts or referrals? I would like to get someone on the phone and go into greater detail

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May 30, 2004

Dear Mr. Friedland,

I just read you response to a question about right wrist pain on Mark Charette’s Woodwind clarinet page. I’m a junior in high school with hopes of a career in music. I love playing the clarinet! However, I was recently diagnosed with tendonitis in my right wrist. It got pretty bad, and I was forced to rest in a cast for 7 weeks. (However, you can maintain embouchure by just playing on the mouthpiece, and memorizing pieces can still be accomplished by looking at your music carefully while listening to recordings. :O) Anyway, the cast has come off, and I am enjoying playing again. But the pain is back. I have a neck strap that I am using faithfully. I am doing shorter more frequent practice sessions rather than “marathon” sessions, as my teacher calls them. :o) But as a full time high school student with a part time job, time is limited. Do you have any suggestions? I would appreciate any help I can get.

Thank you so much!


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False Tooth

May 30, 2004

I saw your article concerning double lip embouchure and wondered whether it could help me, or whether you could offer me alternative advice. 

I have been playing clarinet as an amateur since I was 9. Iplay in a local concert band. ” years ago I lost my front tooth and thought that I wouldn’t be able to play with a false tooth and that my playing days were over. I found an implant specialist who said that a tooth implant would enable me to continue playing. I’ve had the implant done twice now and it seems I have an allergic reaction to it. The specialist has put a temporary tooth in and wants to have one more try in 12 months time after my mouth has had chance to heal from all the surgery.

It is now 2 years since I’ve played. I read somewhere about a double embouchure once but couldn’t find the article when I looked again. I then found your very interesting article on the internet. Do you think that if I tried this method of playing, it would relieve the pressure on the top teeth so that I could play with a tempoary /false tooth? There is alot of pressure there, particularly when playing high notes. Also, would I be any better off with an Eflat clarinet? I’ve never played one but wondered whether less pressure would be needed.

I really hope that you’ll get back to me with any information you have. I’ve asked a couple of experts but so far have no replies.

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Aches and Pains

May 30, 2004

Dear Sherman, I was wondering whether you could help me. I have been experiencing problems in the last year with pains in my wrists, arms and shoulders. It is particularly bad after orchestra rehearsals – I play in a youth orchestra which meets in the holidays, and we rehearse for 6/7 hours a day, for about 9 days, and then do a concert. But it is affecting me more now in my normal practising; I have music college auditions in a month’s time, and so am practising a lot. Is it something to do with my posture? I also play violin and piano, could this affect it at all? Would you recommend learning something like the Alexander Technique – I’ve heard about it, but don’t really know enough about the benefits to make an informed decision. (I’m 17 years old, and have been playing the clarinet for 4 years). Thank you in advance for your time.

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Wrist Pain

May 30, 2004

I have been playing clarinet for seven years now. Whenever I play for a period longer than about 5 minutes I get very sharp pains running through my right wrist. I’ve tried holding my clarinet differently but it doesn’t help. My clarinet teacher gave me a clarinet neck strap to take off some of the pressure but that only works for about 15 to 20 minutes of play. What can I do?

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May 30, 2004

What is your position on clarinetists using vibrato? Thanks.

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Reeds – Part 7 of 1000

May 22, 2004

Dear Mr. Friedland,

Thank You for such a quick reply. You are right about how I’ve been going about this whole reed thing, which is why I want to stop doing that and do it correctly. In fact, I have been only going thru the motions since I started playing clarinet without really understanding what I was doing. I realize that now and I’m going to try and learn these things.

Back to the reeds … There was 1 paragraph I wasn’t real clear about so I want to make certain of these things before I start. I don’t mean to sound stupid but I know about as much as someone just beginning I think and want to do exactly as you say and do it right.

Can I use any 5 reeds that I happen to have or do they need to be new? I’m not clear on what part is the butt. Do you mean the thicker end? I’m looking to see if the 1/2 moon wedge shape is even … right? Are you saying that if I drew a line down the middle of the wedge one side should look exactly like the other? Ok, let’s say 3 of the 5 reeds were uneven, do I move to the next step of checking the tip with the remaining 2, and then check the color, or do I go thru more reeds until I have 5? If I thoroughly wet the reeds and then put them out for inspection, won’t this make them warp? I thought that wetting a reed and then not properly storing it caused them to warp. How much of the reed should be put in water and for how long? Am I correct … when I have recognized 3-5 reeds with even butts, tips and good color, let you know and then you will tell me what is next?

Thank you again,


Continuing from part one of “the first five Mountains”, an essay on developing “reed discernment, by Sherman Friedland.

The butt is the bottom of the reed, that part which is furthest away from the tip. This must be reasonably even; if not, or very uneven, the reed may play, however it will always be a worry. Unstable.

Now to continue the story on the 5 reeds: these reeds you have chosen as being the best in, say a series of 15-20 reeds tried, or less, no more. The point is that you are training your ability to actually pick a good reed, or at least a better reed than the others you’ve tried. That’s discernment! That is what this exercise is all about: learning to choose, to narrow down, and then to work upon and finally select a playable (in concert or rehearsal) reed.

They do not just appear, they must be chosen, and you must make the choice.

Leave these 5 on a glass, but prior to leaving them, dry them between the tip of your thumb and index finger, again and again, carefully so that you do no damage. Then … put them away for a day, 24 hours or so until they are all dried out and curl up again when you again soak them in your mouth.

Let them again get straight; they will and try them again, more carefully and for a longer period of time. They may all have changed drastically, or some may have kept their goodness. Wet them all again and try them. If you wind up with all junk or rejects, so be it. You have to start again, the only thing being do NOT throw any of these reeds away, for they must be tried and dried until a bit of stability begins to show it self. This will mean that the reed is beginning to change and become stable, to cure. Throw none away!

How do these reeds look? Do they show a thicker symmetrical center that is eevenly thicker in the middle and then taparing and getting lighter and thinner toward the edges? They should. And if they do you are on the right track. You must keep your patience and you center of concentration. You are learning about the reeds you will eventually choose. They must both look and feel even.

The first test is always how they respond, how they sound, but looking good is also a part of it.

You should still have 5, though you may have switched some for others, and you should have a growing number of rejects, at least so far. Some of the rejects will leave you, some will be chosen again. It’s all a matter of wood and the way it ages, your saliva, and more than anything your patience.

Reeds – Part 6 of 1000

May 22, 2004

A reed is either too soft or too hard. Too hard is usually better because sometimes just playing it will make it vibrate more. The dilemma is, it seems that you need resistance in the reed to have something to blow against and to project the sound but too much resistance and the reed doesn’t vibrate and too little resistance and the reed gives a thin sound and won’t project. It seems as though the minute I do the slightest adjustment to the reed the potential for good sound is lost and I have to forget about using that reed. Does anyone else have this problem and what do they do about it?

Thank you for your literate question.

Yes, you are correct. Every clarinetist has those problems, all of them whether or not they make their own reeds or anything. It is part of the game, as they say. The one large mistake is that you imply that you try the reed immediately after changing or cutting or sanding it.

That is wrong.

You must work on at least, let us say, six reeds at one session. Work for as little time as you can and then put them all away, after wiping them and letting them dry out.

Wait a couple of days for the reeds to change, and they do, and here is the big thing: you change too, and you are no longer attached to the bad reed as much as before.

Playing a musical instrument is a compulsive-obsessive nightmare for everyone, because you must repeat things over and over again. That is part othe definition of O-C. Break that by giving your reeds time to change. You will be happier, guaranteed. So too, will your reeds seem more consistent and less horrid.

Remember, work slowly and patiently, only 6 reeds at a time!