Embouchure Fatigue

Hi Sherman,

I am a 58 year old returnee to the clarinet who played a lot until my mid-twenties, and am finding that, even though I resumed playing several years ago, I seem to be going through a bout of mouth muscle fatigue.

It concerns the muscles in the corners of my cheeks I think, where one would smile. I do not play with an exaggerated smile embouchure. It is a bit puzzling. I play for 5-10 minutes, then then I lose the embouchure, leak a lot of air, just can’t continue with any control. I can resume after 10-20 minutes but then the same thing happens after a short time. I play with a medium facing and a medium 3 or 3 1/2 reed.

I am reasonably sure that my embouchure is “normal” having been taught in my youth by Mitchell Lurie and then having lessons last year with Howard Klug.

Short of my having developed a neuro-muscular disease I can only assume that age has impaired my muscular strength and I just need to keep working at it. Have you heard of anything like this and/or do you have any suggestions?

Many thanks,


Hello Stewart:

After having read your letter concerned with fatigue within the musculature of the embochure I cannot give you anything conclusive because I cannot see what it is that you are doing. There IS always something to see in a players battle with the embouchure of the clarinet. And it is almost always a battle somehow.

The training I received on that score was strictly my own because I had read that ease of playing is most important and have always believed that the music should appear to be a part of the player, the clarinet being an extension of the music. There is no difference. You must give the impression of being at ease with yourself and therefore with the music.

So, the first thing that I would take issue with your statement that you have a normal embouchure. For me that statement is an oxymoron because there is no such thing as an embouchure that is normal. There are always things about playing that differ between all of us for we all are different and, as I have said before we would have been born with a clarinet had it been normal, and clarinet playing a normal thing. I take exception to that idea and to the statement regardless with whom you have studied.

My feeling is that you are overcorrecting in some way, in some part of the embouchure, and it could be anything but probably is you will not allow yourself to just play easily. You have perhaps introduced a strange hand motion, perhaps have gone to taking in too much mouthpiece (always a strong possibility). At the least you are overcorrecting your embouchure, that is to say, always making the embochure and perhaps not realizing that you muscles are becoming used to playing.

All of these seem superficial, however please remember that you give me little to go on. I must assume that all is not well. If I could see and hear you play for but a moment I know I would notice something to bring to your attention. However because you are not enjoying playing there is something you could change. The reed you say you use sounds correct, however on a mouthpiece that is too open you may have very little control which would bring on quick fatigue. So too would taking in too much mouthpiece.

My recommendation would be to stop all playing for a week, then start again checking every aspect, and to cease playing as soon as you tire regardless of how little time that may be.

Hope I have helped you a little.

Best wishes to you.

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