Playing with Braces

Can I Play with Braces?

While a student, solving all the problems of embouchure that one must solve, I came to the conclusion that the clarinet was not really meant to be within the lips and mouth of a person. The mouth is really meant for speaking and taking in nourishment. Playing the clarinet is basically not a natural avenue for us to travel.

While developing this simplistic, but important idea, I realized that we must make the clarinet as natural as we possibly can. This idea includes a natural-looking embouchure, a natural looking playing position, including the positioning of the fingers, and the angle of the clarinet to the body. The positioning of the right thumb for the beginning student is crucial to correct finger development, but also and more importantly contributes to the correct or the incorrect embouchure.

In speaking with dentists, in general not a knowledgable group of embouchure specialists, and in examining my own difficulties having to do with teeth and the development of a professional clarinet embouchure, the first conclusion is that an overbite (the upper teeth extend a bit in front of the lower) is probably the best choice for a musically or “clarinetistically” inclined student. “Overbite” is the most frequently encountered dental configuration, so we are reasonably safe there. If the overbite is not natural, the student will either make one or hold the clarinet at a different angle from the body that will match his dental configuration. We have all seen clarinetists who have played for a few years, showing a different shape to their teeth than what is normal. Frequently I have seen the impression of the mouthpiece wear a spot away in the upper teeth, or we know that certain players have had their lower teeth filed so as not to “bite”.

These are all formative in nature. The many hours needed to develop the perfectly natural looking and sounding embouchure serve to erode into the teeth what will be the final formation for the playing of the clarinet. There is always the possibility that this development will sometimes cause discomfort and even failure in some students.

The presence of correcting prostheses within the mouth (BRACES) and the beginning steps in clarinet playing are not particularly compatible. If your dentist is not sanity challenged he or she will say NO to the clarinet. Why? Because it pushes aside all his work. He is working on a perfect bite, usually for cosmetic reasons, but also because the lifetime of the teeth supposedly is enhanced with correct and straight teeth.

The clarinet really doesn’t work well with all those hooks and wires in there. If the dentist is careful and has been educated in aspects concerning the clarinet, he may try to cover all of that hardware with more wax and smoothness so that the aspiring clarinetist will not encounter too much discomfort coping with the dynamics of the positioning of the lips around or against the teeth in embouchure development. If the dentist has not, or even if the dentist has, they still may even make it more uncomfortable. Braces cost parents thousands. So indeed, do clarinet lessons.

It usually depends on how much you MUST play the clarinet. You can go through the whole process ; you may progress more slowly, perhaps not. And then, when you have all those nice straight Hollywood teeth and your richer dentist pulls off his prosthesis, you will probably have to make further adjustments.

The thing to remember is that, while these adjustments, the braces, the health of your mouth and teeth are terribly important to all those concerned, they are very small amounts of time and discomfort within the musical life about to be undertaken. Which means, it CAN be done with braces.

I suppose one could say to conclude, “keep a stiff upper lip”, however that might not be wise. Keep flexible, and remember you are growing all the time that this process takes place. If you play with braces, do NOT practise “in pain”; stop frequently; go more slowly, and remember always consider the sound you are making. If that is “the end”, you will always succeed. Good luck and come back.


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