Dear Mr. Friedland,
I am writing to you in the hope that you will be able to help me with my dilemma. First I suppose I had better introduce myself: My name is Ben and I am a 1st year university clarinettist in Melbourne, Australia. I have been playing clarinet for 10 years now and always have worked as hard as I possibly can. My Clarinet idols are Larry Combs, Gregory Smith and Robert Schubert and I always strive to play like them.
My dilemna arose recently after discovering that my bite or embouchure-tension was greater than I had originally thought. I realise that some muscle stength/tension is needed to play effectively however I believe (after observation) that my tension is too great and affecting my playing as a whole. So, I made an effort to do something about this but am finding myself running around in circles. No matter how hard I try to ease the tension, relax and play, my embouchure always resorts back to its old fashion of biting. This is incredibly frustrating and I find myself becoming even angry about not being able to physically do what I really want to do.
Can you please offer some advice on this matter. Anything would be much appreciated!
Yours In Clarinetistry.
I think I have forgotten your question, or to answer it. And when I think of my initial answer I know that I have not written about your problem as yet.
There are several key words and phrases in your note:
1: running around in circles and
2. frustration at the problem.
Here is my sincere advice:
Don’t play for a day or for several days. Put the clarinet out of your mind … before it makes you that way.
Then start to play again, but very slowly, very slowly and use the double-lip embouchure.
This is the most perfect embouchure, the ideal, the most natural and you will not be able to do it very well. Not at all if you bite, for you will bite until you bleed and that does smart.
Please, take it on blind faith, for I have done the same thing, many tmes, and I use this double lip as a therapeutic embouchure, and when playing in the orchestra I used it on all unison passages.
Here is what you cannot do with this way of holding the clarinet in your mouth:
You cannot bite; it is impossible because it will hurt you, so you will begin to ease up on hard reeds and you will begin to (probably) take less mouthpiece in your mouth.
You will stop banging your fingers because it will hurt your mouth each time you do. You will stop leaking air (you have to). Your legato will improve exponentially.
These things kind of outline your problem and the double lip embouchure helps amazingly well.
The greatest players used it: Ralph MacLane (first in Philadelphia). Mention his name to Larry and he will agree, unbelievable sound. Harold Wright, (first in Boston), a student of MacLane’s and the best there was, really.
As far as sound and legato, there is or was simply nobody else, unless you talk about their teacher, whose name I do not recall.
Gino Cioffi, first in Boston and my teacher for a while, had the most beautiful sound on a clarinet that was possible to get. Double lip.
No matter how hard it feels , please give it some time.
Be prepared to have the clarinet almost drop from your hand when you play thumb F or thumb C … until you get used to it and develop the proper muscles.
Anyway, that is all I can tell you. First, stop and let your mouth and brain heal, then do the double lip. Try, it will be hard, but it is like self-adjusting, really it is. And you may get to love it and marry it. You could do worse.
Sorry to make you wait for the reply.
Best wishes to you