The Anonymous Musician

Hi Sherman,

I started reading stuff from your website lately, and I’ve found it to be really useful. I’ve been playing the clarinet for about three years (since my first year of middle school), and I just recently got a Van Doren B45 to replace the piece-of-trash plastic mouthpiece that comes with your instrument. I got out my tuner, which I rarely ever used before, and tuned my clarinet. It was awful. At first, I was up to 40 cents sharp in the lower register with my old habits. Those habits would including putting the top of the reed (Van Doren size 3, by the way) over the mouthpiece, making an insanely tight embouchure, and making my throat in an “ih” shape. I was having to pull out maybe 2 mm at the barrel, middle, and bell each.

Then, I started trying some different things. With the reed slightly under the top of the mouthpiece, a looser embouchure, and making an “oh” shape with my throat, I can play in tune by only pulling out 2 mm at the barrel, 1 mm at the middle, and not touching the bell at all. The girl that sits next to me in symphony and church who always tells me to pull out didn’t tell me to pull out at all today. I just wanted to know if the changes that I made are alright and if I should continue to use them. I read that you should make your throat in an “ee” shape, but that doesn’t really work that well for me.

Along with all that, I recently noticed that I’ve been tonguing on the tip of the reed with a part of my tongue a bit behind the tip. Should I stop doing that? I just feel that using the tip of my tongue makes the sound too sharp.

Oh, and how do you make your tone sound “dark” or “bright”? I mean, I’ve heard that a dark tone is more pleasing to people around you, but a bright tone helps you to project. How do I alter my sound to make those tones and which do you recommend?

Also, do most adults just have lower standards for children who are musicians? Because I’m first chair in my band and in the lower level of the county youth orchestra, and I’m in the higher level of the youth orchestra (not first chair, of course). I also participated in a solos and ensembles music festival recently, and the judge gave me a 1+. He said that I played expressively and that I had good articulation and tone. Honestly, I thought I sounded like a car horn that could crescendo. And my private lessons teacher just tells me that I’m better than his other students, even when I completely mess up my lesson. This just sort of concerns me.

Thanks in advance for your helpful reply.


Hi Anonymous:
I am pleased that you are learning things from my site, for it is certainly for you and students like you. I have been responding to clarinetists questions for many years and there are over 400 essays and articles on the site, the size of a large, comprehensive book. Interestingly enough I just found a very useful feature of the site that makes browsing it much easier, and that is the search aspect, which by simply typing in the subject matter you can receive the answer to your particular question answer . This digital index is very useful for a large website and I suggest that you make use of it, if you haven’t already.
It is always difficult to respond when one does not hear the student play.
When I hear the student, I hear the question without you stating it, somewhat like an experienced mechanic hearing an engine run and knowing what needs fixing.
This process has taken me more than 60 years to learn and I am still learning every day.
You sound like you are doing one thing very well indeed; really, you are going from the quality of the sound you are making, meaning you are correcting yourself and searching for ways in which to improve.
Tongue and reed placement are both matters that one corrects by listening, then fixing, and it sound as if you are able to do this, or at least try, rather than buying gadgets and all manner of things which do nothing for your ear.
In general, listen to good clarinetists play, on record, and when you find one you really like, get his or her sound in your head. Keep it there, and it will become your sound, or your interpretation of the sound you are hearing. Follow diorections on my site for reed placement and embouchure adjustment.
And sound is the most imnportant thing n learning to play the clarinet.
Good luck and thank you for writing in.

best regard, anonymous,


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