Beginning Embouchure Problems

Dear Sherman,

I’d be grateful if you could provide me with a few pointers. I am a beginner clarinet player, self-taught, using a Buffet E11 clarinet (with its standard mouthpiece) and grade 2 reeds.

For the last few months, I have managed to get quite a decent sound, at least till the first A in the upper register, and find tonguing and fingering natural (having played the recorder in my youth). However, recently, I have been practising slightly more complicated pieces that include a lot of work in the upper register and crossing the break. The problem I’m now having is that I can’t seem to play the notes below lower C anymore. Even though I don’t play the speaker key, the lower notes consistently play a 12th higher, as though the speaker key were being pressed. I can only seem to play the low notes if I get to them by playing other notes in the lower register (C or above) first and then playing down the scale.

I’m at my wits end. Have I developed a strange embouchure? Are the reeds too soft? Am I breathing too hard? I tried messing about with the embouchure (only to get squeaks) and sometimes get a good tone by moving my bottom lip down, but then become more susceptible to squeaks and have less control.

Is this a common problem about playing style, or could it have something to do with the clarinet at all?

I hope to seek out the advice of a teacher soon, but perhaps you may be able to give me an idea in the meantime as to what I’m doing wrong.

Many thanks in advance and all the best

Hi Gary:

There are many things to say to you that may be of service whether or not you go to a teacher. If you do, make sure that the teacher can play and does play for you.

The simplest thing having to do with your problem with playing in the low register is that there is a leak in the clarinet or that the register key is not closing or a similar key. One simple possible solution in cases like these is to get several rubber bands and place them around the clarinet at the closure of the pad, which normally tends to help close the pad further.

Most probably you have not developed a strange embouchure, the answer in this particular instance seems to me to be related to keys properly closing.

Also it is possible that you have inadvertantly gotten into the habit of placing your fingers in such a way as to partially open a key without knowing it. This would be the case if you are having an awkward time negotiating holding the instrument, which happens to all of us at times.

Do not mess around thinking it is the way you hold the clarinet in your mouth. It is not, and you can only become more frustrated that way, which is also common amongst players of our instrument. Stay calm.

Do not ask yourself too many questions. I would feinitely change your mouthpiece in time because mouthpieces that come with instruments are notoriously bad. Change to a Van Doren B45, or a Selmer HS*, which feels better.But first trace down the leaking of your horn: whether it be a leaking pad, or a finger problem. Try the rubber bands.

When it is fixed, it should be easy to go into the lower register… unless either you or the clarinet is making a key open inadvertantly.

Play they way you know ro be correct. Not too much mouthpiece, terrible habit, squeaks, loss of control and sharpness. Try to remember when it was good and go weith that way of playing until your confidence returns. Get a good, well-made mouthpiece, at the last instance.

Good luck.

Sherman

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