Throat Leak

I am happy to have wandered onto this portion of the “sneezy” site this evening, as I think perhaps in all your experience you may have encountered someone else with a dilemma similar to mine.

I am a masters student in clarinet performance, and I have an endurance problem involving my throat/air production. When I play something particularly long or that demands a lot of control (the beginning of the Copland Concerto, for instance), it feels as if my throat is closing off, and it makes a scratching noise. It feels as if the air is determined to go everywhere but into the clarinet. Sometimes it causes my ears to pop, and it always renders finishing a performance scary, if not impossible.

I have received a little advice from random sources (none of my own teachers have experienced this problem themselves, or with other students). Some of what I have gleaned on my own follows:

move sound production farther forward to avoid undue pressure to the soft palate, which will leak air

simply support the breath better/lower

place the toungue farther forward in the mouth.

If you think that any of these have hit the mark, or you have other suggestions or referrals, please let me know. It is difficult to be just beginning a career as a clarinetist when I know that there is potential disaster in every performance.

Thank you in advance for responding 🙂

-“frustrated”


Dear “frustrated”

I find your note evocative and will try to answer it though I would like to hear you play , for usually then, the answer to the problem is always immediate. But, let me give you a few possibilities as to possible causes and remedies:

First as to throat placement or position while playing, which can be the problem or part of it. There are several configurations of the throat that are utilized by “key” words. The two most common which may have pertinence to your problem are the syllable “eee” and the resultant muscular configuration, or the syllable “ahhh”, either of which used produces basically a different quality of sound.

The syllable which is most like “eee” is used by most clarinets who play things like the opening of the Copland, (which incidentally, is difficult for anyone to play, takes a reed with special resistance, and a considerable amount of experience especially with breath control.) If possibly your throat is open with the basic configuration of “ahh”, you will have difficulty and possibly the kind that you describe.

Fixing is usually not difficult; getting yourself used to it so that it beomes second nature and part of your technique, a little longer. In general your throat needs to be in the “eee” position. The sound always becomes more compact and it may eliminate a part or all of the problem. Play slowly and give it time.

As to quality and resistance of the reed, here we have a another pissible part , though it is coupled with control of breathing. If we take the Copland as an example, this piece needs to be marked for breathing. You cannot just play it, one must know where to take a breathe and also how.

I began to notice that my breathing was quite audible on recordings of concerts and became unacceptable to me. The change was simple: a good breath needs to be taken but it must be inaudible to the audience or even to the microphone; you simply learn to open your mouth a bit more when taking the breath and the throat as well. Breathe inaudibly. Again, thought and then execution, after practise. Use the Copland and make sure your breathing completely inaudble. You cannot gasp for breath in this piece. That sets up a panic, which you may be eluding to when you say that these kinds of passages are chancy and problematic, if, you can get through them at all.

The opening of the Debussy Rhapsody is another problem for the clarinetist. That work has to sound effortless on the part of the clarinetist, not an easy achievement, believe me.

It could be that you go into one of these kinds of lyrical, slow passages with embouchure trepidation, which must, through practise , give way to breathing and embouchure poise, if you will.

It is a kind of self-assurance that runs completely through you as you walk out on stage and as you begin to play. Takes thought and a considerable amount of practise.

Anyway, consider this a beginning to helping you with your problem. After reading it and playing, let me know what you think and don’t hesitate to ask more questions. Sometimes responses take time, but I will always answer.

Hope I have been of some help. Best wishes.

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