Klarinet Archive - Posting 001348.txt from 1998/04
From: Lee Hickling <hickling@-----.Net>
Subj: Langenus' embouchure (was Re: tip openning)
Date: Thu, 23 Apr 1998 19:29:07 -0400
This is a comment on something Cindy wrote:
For my money, Gustave Langenus said it all on embouchures 75 years ago. I'm
quoting from the introduction to his Complete Method for the Boehm Clarinet
(1923 American edition, published by Carl Fischer):
"In this country (I believe he meant France) there are four distinct
embouchures used among the different players.
1. Both lips drawn over teeth, reed resting against upper lip.
2. Both lips drawn over teeth, reed resting against lower lip.
3. Reed resting upon lower lip, upper teeth pressing mouthpiece about an
inch from the point.
4. Reed resting upon lower lip, upper teeth, or tooth, resting one-third
of an inch from the point of the mouthpiece.
The first belongs to the very old Italian School of Clarinet Playing, and
is fast becoming obsolete.
The second is taught in the French Schools, and is supported by some
eminent performers. In most cases, this required a very soft reed, with the
result that the pitch of the instrument sharpens considerably in piano
passages, and flattens in forte, requiring continual and great effort to
play in tune.
The third belongs to the German School. It requires a long lay and hard
lip pressure. The embouchure is not at all suitable for the Boehm clarinet,
as it makes the tone a little coarse, thereby preventing it from blending
well with the Oboe, the Flute, and other wind and string instruments. It is
also extremely difficult to play with this embouchure as delicately as the
aforementioned instruments, yet modern interpretation demands it from the
I use and recommend the fourth embouchure, which almost the same as the
French, except that the upper teeth are allowed to touch the mouthpiece
instead of being enveloped by the upper lip. With this embouchure a
slightly harder reed is used, insuring a greater equilibrium of pitchm yet
the same delicacy of tone, as secured by the French embouchure. A detailed
description of this embouchure follows:
1. The lower lip is slightly drawn over the teeth.
2. Let the reed rest on the rim of the lower lip about half an inch from
3. The point of the reed must be free from any contact with lip or tongue
for at least a quarter of an inch, in order to vibrate freely against the lay.
4. The upper teeth, or the inner corner of one central tooth, rest (not
press) on the mouthpiece, not over half an inch from the point.
5. The lips and especially the corners of the mouth must be compressed
inwardly around the mouthpiece like an elastic band."
That's what we all were taught, right? -- and what most of us still do. M.
Langenus, for some reason, did not mention keeping the cheeks flat in order
to direct the airstream at the reed and produce just the right amount of
muscular tension in the mouth, but otherwise I don't think many modern
clarinets will disagree with him.
The clarinetists "who look for all the world as if they are swallowing the
mouthpiece" may have managed to play acceptably that way, but my bet is
that there are serious shortcomings in their playing. On another
instrument, Dizzy Gillespie puffed his cheeks until he looked like a toad
with an advanced case of goiter. He got extra power for those high notes
that way, but no teacher would let a beginning trumpet player do what he did.
By the way, after many years of loyalty to the Klose-Staats Celebrated
Method, I've started to put my more advanced students into Langenus,
because it's much better organized in terms of progressive difficulty, and
provides more and better study material of low to medium difficulty. I'd be
interested to know what method other private or conservatory teachers like
to these days, or if they use one at all..
Lee Hickling <hickling@-----.net>
>No two clarinetists are alike. Apparently, the same setup can provide
>different results for anyone who tries it. Clearly, there are MANY variables
>that are unaccounted for. Here is another I wonder about...
>How does the position of the player's lips on the mouthpiece/reed affect the
>setup? I have seen photos of clarinetists who look for all the world as if
>they are swallowing the whole mouthpiece. (Well, that's a bit of an
>exaggeration.) Others tend to keep very little mouthpiece in the mouth.
>It seems to me that the position of the lips on the setup could either
>counteract or enhance the effects of the tip opening and curve of the
>Also, what is your experience with a double-lip embouchure and mouthpieces?