The most natural embouchure for playing the clarinet

Dear Sherman,

I am writing this email as I feel it’s finally time to confront my clarinet demons. I was a very successful clarinet student in my 20s: I attended the Royal Academy of Music and then took a year out in Bloomington where I was lucky enough to study with some great teachers. My ability was soon recognised in Indiana and I found myself having to cope with a pretty rigorous albeit ‘prestigious’ playing schedule. It was during this time that I began to realise a few things about my clarinet playing. In particular, orchestral playing highlighted my tendency to play extremely sharp. I also found it hard to project sufficiently and generally felt that my sound lacked body. Furthermore, I’d always felt that reeds were an issue. They never lasted long and I noticed that playing always seemed an effort – the altissimo range for example always seemed quite restrictive. In general, my reeds felt ‘squashed’ after a short amount of time. I tried raising these issues with teachers but they were never able to help as my overall technical ability often covered up the problems I faced. It’s also difficult for a professor to notice how sharp you’re playing if you’re in tune with yourself. After researching the issue I realised that I was probably playing with an extreme ‘biting embouchure’. Rectifying this however seemed almost impossible – loosening the embouchure made the sound unfocused, and taking in more mouthpiece to soaken up the bite resulted in little respite. My confidence began to wilt and on returning to the UK I decided to give the up. All the stress of trying to sort out my playing issues seemed too much.

I am now 32 and haven’t played the clarinet regularly in ten years. Just recently though I began to play again and wondered if the above issues were ‘fixable’. Having read a few threads I decided to give the ‘double embouchure’ a try. This wouldn’t be permanent, just a means to training the correct muscles. Having attempted the double embouchure for half an hour this evening I noticed that my lips began to quiver ( I was almost losing control) and that air escaped. It was also difficult to focus the sound without biting more….

I guess I’m writing to ask if you feel I have diagnosed my problems correctly. If so, what’s the best way of training your lips to play with a double embouchure, and what ‘side effects’ will I notice whilst training my muscles.

Thanks for your help

G.

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Hi Gabriel:
Assuming that all the information you have written is correct, you need to be very patient. You need to practice your embouchure and exercises very slowly and patiently, even less than an hour at a time.
With a biting embouchure you will have nothing but discomfort until you get used to not biting. You will need to use a softer reed, perhaps much softer. You will need to play only in the lower register of the instrument and you will have to avoid the thumb F and the high C for when playing those you will have nothing to hold on to and the clarinet will roll away from you.
Practice with both hands on the horn. You may have some pain and you will definitely have quivering. Every rime you put a finger down you will experience discomfort. So,to avoid this discomfort, you will stop biting, and the results after time will be remarkable. Duble lip is the best most natural embouchure, but you must play correctly, and it will take a while for you to acclimatize yourself and your embouchure, you will be beginning to use the most natural way there is to play the clarinet. Give yourself time. And plan to use it all the time. After you have “gotten it”. then you make up your mind. But not before.

Best to you,
Sherman Friedland

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