Sharp and Airy – What Can I Do?

Dear Mr. Friedland,

Sorry to give you so much trouble. Well, here’s my question. I am
a 15 year old student. I use a B45 Vandoren mouthpiece and a
Vandoren 3 1/2 reed. I either sound sharp or airy. At first I
thought it was my instrument, but soon I found out that just
playing with the barrel and the mouthpiece, which should sound F#
on the piano, I can go so sharp that I sound a whole semitone
higher. So I tried to loosen my embouchure, but it doesn’t work.
It can get a bit flatter, but then all the air will start to come
in. Then I decided that my embouchure is wrong. After reading the
article on double lip embouchure, I decided to try it out. So I
tried to use the double lip embouchure, but I sound worse. I find
it hard to support the clarinet, and my tone is very thin. What is
wrong? How can I refrain from going sharp and how can I get rid of
the airiness? Is there any other exercise other than holding long
notes to improve my tone? And can you also tell me what indeed is
a correct embouchure? As in “do I tighten up down, or left right,
or both?” Well, I thought you might like to know the following,
too. I used to have a very nice tone until recently. Now I find my
embouchure moving quite frequently, and I find it hard to hit the
high notes. Why is this so?

Hi!

First and probably foremost, the test that you mention for
practising quality of sound and/or tightness of embouchure with
just the mouthpiece is not a good test, at least it is not a
foolproof test for tone quality, nor for pitch. The only thing
that test is good for is making the clarinet sound on the
mouthpiece alone and not just a squeak. Anything else, always use
the instrument.

Second, I recommend that you do not use a Vandoren #3.5 reed. You
sound as if you have not been playing for a very long time. Use an
easy setup, even a Rico or a Mitchell Lurie or a #2.5 Vandoren,
one that is easy to blow. No tightness, no intensity is necessary
at this stage. You will have to play without biting down on this
kind of setup, or else you will get nothing but a horrible squawk.
When you are playing correctly, there will be only sound, and you
should feel a fatigue in the corners of your mouth after a while.
That is the time to stop and rest a while.

You may even be happier on a B44 Vandoren mouthpiece, although not
really. A B44 is just a bit less intense to play on. But really,
do not start playing with different mouthpieces yet. You are much
too young.

The double lip embouchure makes most things easier IF you are
playing on an easy reed, one with not a lot of resistance. The 3.5
Vandoren reed is probably too hard for double lip – play an easier
reed. There should be no airiness and no fuzz. The double lip
embouchure is the most therapeutic you can use. You simply have to
play correctly. You cannot bang or pinch and you certainly cannot
play hard reeds. They won’t play. Yes, playing the high C and even
the throat F is difficult on double lip, for there is nothing upon
which to support the clarinet except the thumb. If it is not
enough, you may use the first finger, the index finger of your
left hand, to press down upon above the A key. But using no
support will take time. The high C will take a while, the throat F
much less.

The reason for the thin sound, the intonation difficulties, the
tightness, and the discomfort is just that the reed is too
resistant. Use easy playing reeds, less resistance is best. Only
if the sound gets wishy-washy or wavery would I increase the
resistance of the reed.

Double lip, I repeat, is the most natural embouchure, but you
cannot bite, you cannot bang your fingers, those two notes are
more difficult, but you will develop a more beautiful sound, a
better legato and a better intonation as well.

One more thing, all of these things will take time. If it doesn’t
come right away, give it a bit of a rest and a bit of time. Or
play single lip, but still without the hard reed. Hard reeds do
nothing for new students save for introducing incorrect ideas.

Take it easy. Go slowly, take plenty of breaks, and remember, rest
your chops. Hope this helps a bit.

Sincerely,

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