Klarinet Archive - Posting 000522.txt from 1996/01
From: "Gregory T. Wright" <103147.1471@-----.COM>
Date: Thu, 25 Jan 1996 00:59:40 -0500
The recent discussion of proper lip tension brings to mind two different
methods that I was taught. At first, my 5th-grade band teacher (Mr. Harland
Nye - I owe him!) told all of the single-reed players the same thing in regards
to emouchure: "Top teeth, bottom lip, and SMILE". He would emphasize "smile",
without saying much else. I have a feeling that it was to distract his young
students that their upper & lower lips were not doing identical tasks, although
he did exaggerate pulling the corners of his lips back. Of course, his major
instrument was "bass horn", or tuba (at least he didn't call it a "blow bass"
in contrast with a "string bass" :-D) "Correctness" aside, he started a huge
number of players, and his groups were always the best his budget (as low as
$0.00/year for materials) would allow.
When I later attended Michigan's Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, there was mor
logic involved (IMHO) in the single reed embouchure model, including more
differentiation between the feel of clarinet & saxophone embouchres. My
instructor, Mr. Jim (I think - it's been a while) Boitos, used directions more
or less like this for the jazz bands' sax sections: "The upper teeth are your
anchor on the mouthpiece. I wish I could play with a double-lip [sax]
embouchure, like oboe players do, but I can't get the control I need. Your
upper teeth should touch directly above the point where the reed first meets the
lay of the mouthpiece." He then had us insert a piece of paper between the reed
& mouthpiece, and note the first place that we felt any friction. Bingo! That's
"Now, place your teeth on the mouthpiece, and close your mouth. Blow.
Those nasty sounds you just made are called 'whistle tones.' In order to avoid
those, use your lower lip as a cushion for your lower teeth. Once in a while,
whistle tones may be useful when improvising. Here are the important things: so
far, we have the top teeth keeping the mouthpiece at a consistent depth in the
mouth, and the lower lip is keeping the lower teeth from touching the reed. Are
we done? Not yet. All the way around, your lips now need to act like a rubber
band," [This concrete clue is one thing I find easy for my students to relate
to. - GTW] "and keep the air from leaking around the edges. Your top lip has
to seal downward, your bottom lip (NOT your jaw) has to seal upward, and the
corners of your mouth have to seal inward, like ants eat."
With that one sentence, and needed reinforcement, he had us using better
"corner tension", because rubber bands don't have corners. Neither, for the
muscular purposes of embouchure, should our lips. Ants eat by moving their
mandibles horizontally, so the places where our lips would be farthest from the
mouthpiece become the places where we focus attention on getting them closer,
and making the "rubber band" round. He also said:
"As a professional teacher, I think the hardest thing for me to pass to
my students is the concept of playing _loose._ If your jaw is biting too hard,
your lip muscles have to compensate in order to keep the reed vibrating. All
that extra work means ..." (less endurance, lip pain, funny-looking red inner
"The WORDS for the clarinet embouchure are identical, but the FEEL is
totally different." He did mention "pointing" the chin, and not using vibrato
in "legit" music because "the clarinet sounds best at the top of its pitch."
Unfortunately, that is all I can remember of his discourse on the
clarinet embouchure as *opposed* to sax; I had never played a clarinet at that
point, so I guess it wasn't that important to me. I do remember being very
surprised when speaking with the baritone saxophonist from that year's Blue Lake
Monster. Bari sax was my first.. uh, make that second love ;-/ , and I had my
own Yamaha YBS 62 w/low A even then. What surprised me was when he said, "There
aren't many bari players around, but you'll make a lot more money if you learn
to play bass clarinet, too."
Bigomy. Oh, no. Not that.
He was right!
Gregory T. Wright