Double Lip Embouchure

What are your opinions as to using one or both lips curled over the teeth … (single lip versus double lip embouchure). I have found that all teachers recommend single, but that double enhances the tone of the lower notes. Thanks in advance.

Thank you very much for your question concerning the so-called “double-lip” embouchure. I am happy to answer.

First and perhaps foremost, double-lip is recommended more than single, not the reverse. Teachers in the US do not, in general use the embouchure, but most do recommend it as a therapeutic prescription for getting rid of the worst problem to plague clarinetists, especially budding clarinetists, and that is BITING or upward pressure from the jaw.

How many of us (certainly myself), go through a bout of sore lips from too much pressure, (usually caused by a very resistant reed, usually chosen to get a fuller, sometimes called a darker, sometimes called a less bright sound)? Most students do this: they bite, they play sharp, they squeak in the high register, they cannot slur large intervals downward, and they cannot manage staccato without one heck of a racket. It all can be caused by biting, pinching, or squeezing the lips too much, or choosing a harder reed, which simply exacerbates all of the above.

Mostly teachers cannot help, or will not, but the simple prescription is to play or to try to play using the double-lip embouchure for a while, even a short while. You cannot bite using the embouchure because you will soon be in intensive care from blood loss because of biting through your lips. And you will not be able to bang your fingers either, because each time you do, you will get pain. You will relax in a very short time, start fighting the battle of playing high C or thumb F, as the clarinet falls on the floor because of lack of support.

The fact of the matter is that the finest or some of the finest players of this century used the double-lip embouchure all the time. Ralph McClain, principal clarinet of the Philadelphia Orchestra, a gorgeous sound, used double-lip ALL the time. His great student Harold Wright, finally Principal of the Boston, used double-lip all of the time. And on and on. I think that Bonade did not use it, but check, the sound was that good. One of my teachers was Gino Cioffi, formerly Principal in Boston, prior to Wright. He used double-lip all of the time. As a matter of record, as an Italian player he played with the mouthpiece “upside-down” and the clarinet at a larger open angle . Then, of course he changed, but not the basic double-lip embouchure. He was a marvelous player, but perhaps not as musically talented. He used to use about one 32nd” of mouthpiece in his mouth. I have never seen anything like it, or heard anything as fast as fluid and as effortless as Gino’s playing on a good day. (True)

That is all on double lip. If you don’t like it, try it, for it is the most natural embouchure there is for the clarinet. Most small beginners will use it if you don’t tell them not to. It IS natural. But never mind. Use it when you have any kind of embouchure problem. It can and will correct many problems.

When I played in the orchestra, I used to use double-lip during the unison sections. I found it as helpful as any therapeutic technique for the clarinet.

Thanks for your question and good luck in your “clarirenaissance”.


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