Embouchure Problem: a proper approach

Dear Sherman,

Have you any reports on the possible advantage of filing the two front teeth to lessen the effects, when playing the clarinet, of biting on the lip and mp? I have had it done, mainly to shorten the teeth which were too long for proper chewing, but I also noticed they were then much smoother on the biting edge, and thus less likely to cause discomfort. Thank you for your interest and comments.

Dear Richard:
many thanks for your question concerning this common embochure problem which, at this time of the year,would seem a lot simpler than filing income tax, (if you will pardon the pun).

I have experienced this question for many years and know of many clarinetists who have filed their two front teeth, either the top two or the bottom two, (the middle teeth of course, unless you have snaggle tooth issue with something else, an incisor which comes out only at night when you prowl the forest, or perhaps two incisors, the better to inflict lifelong ecstacy upon your victims, to say nothing of lifelong life).

The late Pasquale Cardillo,esteemed second clarinet and eb of the Boston Symphony had his teeth filed, as have many others and I am sure their stories are all somewhat positive, or not. Many clarinetists I have known commonly fold a piece of cigarette paper, moisten it, and shape it to fit over the two middle lower teeth to lessen the impression of these teeth on the lowerlip as one plays. This can be called biting, or not. It really doesn’t matter what it is called. If it causes you discomfort,you must attend to all problems in building a proper embouchure. There is no actual definition of a proper embouchure. Each of us are different. I have told students for years that if we were made to play the clarinet, we would be born with mouthpiece already in place. All of us know this is not the case. Over a period of time we learn to hold the clarinet in our embouchure. Mouthpieces and reeds are parts in this development as much as the clarinet itself. The object of this process is to the development of a method of naturally playing the instrument so that it becomes  a thoughtless process to simplify  playing.

I myself learned that filing a tooth which I felt inhibited my   legato, to say nothing of my staccato) would be beneficial. But, and this is a big but, I never knew if this small alteration helped my playing at all, mostly because I was unable to remember exactly what I sounded like prior to the alteration, which is a terrific lesson. having to do as much with any change or trying to measure something like the quality of sound of an orchestra, a great symphony, for instance, how does one compare the Boston Orchestra with the New York Philharmonic. You would have to have them play the same piece at the same tempo, and to be accurate, in the same hall. Have we any idea of the cost of that little test?

Back to teeth filing, (while I would prefer to stick with symphony orchestra comparisons; there’s more noise there, more opinions, and many more answers, more fun,too.)

I knew some players who had their top two teeth filed so that the opening formed a semi circle in which the mouthpiece fit just fine. The only time it didn’t look absolutely hilarious was when the guy had the horn in his mouth. ) but, between us, it sounded not too great), and as I remember; neither did the fellow sound great before the filing.

If perchance, you want the filing because you are biting, forget about t, as it’s easier to stop biting ,for instance,like switching to double lip, which, with time will make you sound like Gino Cioffi and Harold Wright, both double lip players,both Principals in the Boston Orchestra, and amongst the most beautiful sounding clarinetists who ever played Van Doren. Or didn’t.

A final word or two. Dentists can make you a cap that fits over your teeth and will protect against jagged edges cutting into your lip while playing,and /or biting.. The obvious advantages here are that you can remove the small appliance to feel and hear if there s a difference, and you can always request your dentist to change or adjust the cap. This makes this a more professional approach on your part, making sure you hve room in which to navigate around your decision, and it will ultimately give you many more controllable choices. Please keep in mind that teeth can be forever for a clarinetist; never a worry, just keeping up maintenance, or it can be a lifelong nightmare. One can be a wonderful musician in either case, but if you have the choice, choose forever!

Stay well, enjoy your filings, your dental bill and practice Daphnes and Chloe on both the A and the Bb clarinets and the Eb part as well

happy reindeer. Stay well.



One Response to Embouchure Problem: a proper approach

  1. fezmiester says:


    Great ;z) this was the kind of post I was looking for. ;z) as I am getting my two front upper teeth bonded and caped tomorrow I was trying to figure out how long to tell my dentist to make them. My musician friends (drummers and guitarists and flautists) think I’m crazy (this isn’t new) for telling my dentist tomorrow to make it fit my mouthpiece. Since I play single lipped and I guess I have thick lips because the thought of playing double lipped makes me think about getting shorter teeth ;z)

    But the filing of teeth is really about smoothness and evenness (and I shouldn’t take this thought any further )



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