An Extremely Frustrating problem


Firstly I want to say thank you for such a fabulous website with loads of information for Clarinet enthusiasts !

Now, I am hoping you can help me. I have been playing the Clarinet for about 15 years now and have to say it is the one thing that gives me absolute pleasure in life. For many years I have been playing my Buffet R13 clarinet with a B45 mouthpiece and Vandoren 3 strength reeds, which up until recently I was happy with.

About 2 weeks ago, I suddenly was unable to hit any altissimo register notes (anything above top ‘D’). I would either get a ‘fuzzy’ sound with no note produced or it would advance to the overtone above. After much frustration and a whole box of reeds, I thought I would go shopping and try a new mouthpiece/ligature/reed combination (I wanted to look into improving my tone quality anyway).

I spent hours trying different combinations and was really happy when I combined the new Vandoren M13 lyre mouthpiece with a Rovner Mark II ligature and Vandoren V12 reed strength 3 1/2. I produced a beautiful rich tone (which I love) and was able to hit the notes fairly effortlessly, including at very soft volume, which is a real feat for me !

Well 3 days later after playing the same combination, it has happened again. I believe the reed has softened and has lost the nice full rich tone I originally produced. I have tried watching myself in the mirror to ensure my embouchure and throat position remain consistent and have concentrated on centering my column of air and not biting etc. But no good… When I put a different new reed onto my mouthpiece I can play some of the notes ok. I am at a loss as to why I used to be able to play up in the altissimo register on my old mouthpiece with the softer strength reeds, and now all of a sudden cannot.

Should I be going for a harder reed or perhaps a different brand? Or is it more likely to be something I am doing wrong?

I am extremely frustrated. Please help!

Thank you for the compliment and for your note.
Without hearing or seeing you play, it may be difficult to find just what is causing you this difficulty, but not impossible.
Not be meant as to sound condescending, your description of the difficulty is concerning and causes me to start down many different paths, some which can be the source, or not.
First, I want you to do something with your clarinet: I suggest that you take the register key off the clarinet(screwdriver) and with a pipe cleaner, carefully clean out the vent where that key is. Do it this way: After you have taken off the key, relatively simple, for the spring is in a small tunnel and will kind of snap out without difficulty. Once in a while it is necessary to take the screw out with a long nosed pliers, all of which is simple.
Then look down the inside of that top joint and slowly push the pipe cleaner through it so that you can see it emerge into the bore. If it is preceded by a small clump of dirst, dust or varia we call gnnurr, put the key back and try the clarinet. If the problem is gone you are “home free” as they say, however this infintessimal dirt ball can cause you untold misery. It did me, and I almost quit the clarinet completely when it happened. I was, as you say, “extremely frustrated”, fed up and ready for a long trip. I do not know where I found this piece of information, however I have obviously made it mine and it has saved quite a few students.
However that may not be the problem.
You have used the word “suddenly”, which I find unusual because I think that this kind of difficulty doesn’t just happen suddenly. It usually happens over time.
You could have simply reached another level of self-criticism. We study and criticise ourselves constantly, which is how we improve and you could have reached another level perhap shakily and you are getting used to it.
The new mouthpiece is a great one, I think. I use an M13; however the drift backwards leads me to believe that it might be a problem with the instrument, one that has just happened, a leaky pad, even an out-of-alighnment bridge key could be the problem. The second ring of the top joint could be not covering the hole above it as well as it should be.
What I am saying is check all of these things on the instrument first before you start changing your setup and your everything. That can add variables that you do not need at the present time. I try mouthpieces and clarinets all the time, but I have been obsessed with this thing for many many years, and am kind of used to it, I guess.
You may have a better mouthpiece for yourself with the M13 lyre;certainly it is more interesting than the B45 or I think the other B’s. I just tried an M15 and sent it back. It was fine, but not really an improvement over what I have.
Try not to become obsessed with setups and mouthpieces. When I was a young person there was simply not that huge variation of everything from which to choose. Now everyone wants your money and they come up with all kinds of stuff that can dissuade you from the beauty of the sound you so love and the music you love to play.
Wishing you all the best in all of your work, and with good wishes, I am


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