Unbearable throat pain while practicing

Dear Mr. Friedland,

my 11 year old son has been playing the clarinet for 2 years. However, he wants to quit now because he can’t get over a problem: when playing, he experiences a sudden pain in his throat in the region of his larynx. If he continues playing, the pain disappears and comes back in increasingly shorter intervals. Usually he stops playing after the first appearance since the pain is unbearable. The advice of his teachers was to relax his throat as much as possible but he finds that the moment he relaxes is exactly when the pain starts. Could you give us any advice on this?Thanks for your help,

N.

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Dear Mrs. W:
Certainly I can give you advice on this delicate matter since I have incurred it many times , especially as a student. One would suppose that a doctor should be seen, however since you asked me, let me give you whatever advice I have gained with this specific problem.
I would carefully ask your son if the throat pain is the sole reason that he wants to quit the instrument. Whatever that response, you will be getting some more information on the subject.
I would need to know what he means by the pain being “unbearable“, that being highly unlikely.
What I am trying to say is that there are other reasons he wants to give up playing and “unbearable ” pain is simply not respectable . Unbearable implies the care of a medical person, specifically “Eye Ear Nose and Throat” medical assistance and consultation. If you consider the pain to be “unbearable”, he should be seeing a doctor.
The first thing to do is to completely cease playing until all residual pain completely disappears, and then to resume playing again, carefully avoiding the pain and playing for short periods of time, gradually increasing the time spent practicing and perhaps the pain will have disappeared.
If not, I would advise you to see a specialist in the area of his discomfort, but I do respectfully caution you to determine whether or not he may simply be “sick” of the clarinet.
Somehow I would understand “unbearable”if I knew the person involved is simply fed up with the clarinet, a condition many of us suffer with from time to time.

best wishes,

Sherman Friedland

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One Response to Unbearable throat pain while practicing

  1. danop says:

    Sherman has provided great advice. There is certainly a difference between unbearable and uncomfortable. If the pain is really unbearable, there might be something seriously wrong and he should see a doctor. As Sherman pointed out, you should try to find out if this is really the reason why he says he wants to quit.

    As a clarinet player and teacher who has taught young clarinet players for many years, there are a few other factors to consider. Does he keep his reeds and mouthpiece clean? Does he wash the mouthpiece regularly? Does he use the same reed for two weeks straight, or does he alternate? Reeds should be removed from the mouthpiece after use, and wiped off before storing. He should be alternating reeds, and have three to four reeds in his rotation.

    If his reeds are worn out, this would make them hard to blow, and it could be a cause of his throat pain. Not all reeds are the same–some are easier to blow than others. A clarinet player needs to do a little experimenting to find a reed of just the right strength. You don’t want a reed that is too hard to blow (this is a very uncomfortable feeling), but you don’t want one that is too easy either. When you find one that is just right, you’ll know it. I’m guessing that he’s probably using a reed in the 2 to 2 1/2 to 3 range. It’s important to remember that different companies sometimes use slightly
    different measuring scales. What one company calls a 2 1/2 might be equivalent to a 3 from another company.

    Does he have a basic plastic mouthpiece? It’s possible that this mouthpiece is worn out. They don’t last forever. It might be worth having him try a better mouthpiece, such as the Clark Fobes Debut. If you can afford it, you could look into having him try a good Vandoren hard rubber mouthpiece. Not all mouthpieces are the same. If he tries several, he will discover that some are easy to blow, while others are quite difficult. I don’t recommend buying a mouthpiece until he has a chance to try it first.

    A bad reed or a reed that is too hard to blow can cause throat pain. I know, because I’ve experienced it. A bad mouthpiece (even if the reed is good) just adds to the problem.

    Good luck!

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