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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000568.txt from 2004/10

From: "Forest Aten" <>
Subj: RE: [kl] Some more thoughts on embouchures
Date: Thu, 21 Oct 2004 10:30:16 -0400

Dear List,

I have given my question a bit of time to sink in (namely "If we agree the
reed must contact the mouthpiece to achieve a characteristic clarinet
sound, how does one go about moving the reed?") Here is my reasoned
opinion, please have at it. Yeah, I know the writing is still a little bit
awkward, but I'm not really too concerned about that problem at this point.

Some initial thoughts:

I have decided the value of the hand clap analogy outweighs the potential
confusion in a student's understanding of the true physics of clarinet tone
production. I did try to minimize the confusion, however. Any alternative
suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

For those of you who will insist the saxophone embouchure is an entirely
different beast, that may be true for certain schools of embouchure, but
this document attempts to go beyond schools of embouchure. Try it, you
might like it.

I refuse to suggest one school of playing is better than another, but this
document isn't about advocating one school of playing or another. It is
about understanding the science behind all schools of playing such that the
player can pick and choose their sound at will. This is a "school", if you
insist on calling it that, which was used with the widest variety of
clarinet and saxophone players imaginable. The accompanying embouchure
training routine is an application of these principles to create what most
people would consider to be a characteristic classical tone. Please don't
accuse me of advocating "one true sound", quite the opposite, I am
advocating understanding how the system works such that *any* desired sound
can be produced.

I am assuming a knowledge of correct breathing techniques. I have not
written a description of correct breathing because I feel this subject has
been well covered by people like Arnold Jacobs, Tony Pay, and about a
million singing teachers.

Finally, I need to add an explanation of reed strengths. If I have
explained the below principles well enough, you should begin to realize why
1 1/2 Rico reeds are so popular with band directors. A student doesn't even
have to form an embouchure to get a sound with a 11/2 Rico reed (the reed
so easily moves to contact the mouthpiece). Sadly, though, if a student
happens to attempt to play in a more efficient way, he/she will overpower
the reed. Bad habits are almost guaranteed if the student is given a setup
(bad mouthpiece, overly soft reed, clarinet in bad repair condition) that
by its very nature gives the student incorrect feedback.

The Clarinet/Saxophone Embouchure
by Adam Michlin

All sounds require a vibrating element. In a single reed instrument that
element is the reed. The flow of air from the mouth is what makes the reed
vibrate. It is tempting to think that the vibration of reed alone is what
allows a single reed instrument to make sound, but in fact, it is quite
possible to blow on a clarinet or saxophone and have an air sound only. The
lack of sound occurs because in addition to vibrating, the reed must also
make contact with a surface to generate sound. This physical phenomenon can
be demonstrated to students by trying to clap with one hand. No matter how
hard the one hand waves, no sound is produced. As soon as the second hand
collides with the waving hand, sound is heard.

The question then becomes "How does the player make the reed contact the
mouthpiece?" Here are some possible answers:
1. Blow harder?
2. Use the tongue?
3. Move the reed closer to the mouthpiece with the lip?
4. Move the reed closer to the mouthpiece with the jaw (with the lip
in between)?

Number 1 produces a forced, raspy sound. Many teachers will then tell
students to blow less, and invariably a weak, but non-offensive sound is
made. Unfortunately, since the reed is literally being forced to contact
the mouthpiece, the more the student blows the worse the sound.

Number 2 is fairly easy to dismiss. If one puts the tongue on the reed,
most students will agree the reed stops vibrating. No vibration means no
sound, so likely this technique will not be effective in producing a tone.

Number 3 is the most commonly prescribed solution. It most certainly is an
improvement over number 1 and most student who practice diligently enough
naturally develop this kind of embouchure. The problem with this method is
that the lip is a soft, fleshy part of the body. When you press a soft,
fleshy lip against a vibrating reed, the vibration is dampened. While many
players have wonderful success with this technique, it comes only though
long hours of building up the lip muscles. An effective way to play,
perhaps, but hardly the most efficient.

Number 4 is probably the most efficient way to play. The lip provides a
cushion (protecting against the high overtones one gets by placing the
teeth directly on the reed), but the primary movement of the reed is done
by the jaw/lower teeth. This maximizes the ability of the reed to vibrate,
thus maximizing the tone production of the instrument.

The following page is an embouchure training routine written by my teacher,
Victor Morosco:


I am at a huge loss as to why you think the tip of the reed must/does have
to contact the mouthpiece to produce a characteristic sound on the single
reed instrument?

Forest Aten

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