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 Sore upper lip
Author: Karel Vahala 
Date:   2001-04-12 13:00

I am a relative beginner, and like the sound I produce with a "double lip" embouchure much better than single lip. The problem I run into is painful, compressed upper lip associated with notes like chalumeau upper "f" and clarion upper "c"; anotherwords notes which do not have a steadying finger with a downward pressure. Is there a recognised way of compensating for the effect of the upper teeth? I would hate to have to revert to single lip. Karel.

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 RE: Sore upper lip
Author: Brent 
Date:   2001-04-12 14:12

I play double lip all the time, and indeed those particular fingerings are more unsteady with double lip--and also more painful to the upper lip. When i switched to double lip, i ended up practicing several times a day for shorter periods until i got some strength (and a little bit of callous) built up in my upper lip. I would play for half an hour and my embouchure would be exhausted. Endurance does build up, though. Give yourself some time to get that endurance.

Ont thing you might try (i never have myself, although i thought about it) is using one of those pads that some folks use on the bottom teeth to protect the lip. If you use a similar thing over the top teeth, it may help the pain (although likely not the unsteadiness).

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 RE: Sore upper lip
Author: Ken Shaw 
Date:   2001-04-12 17:42

Karel -

Everybody who tries double lip has this problem initially. Don't worry. You'll work your way through it. In the meantime, rest the bell on your knee. It also helps to cut a tiny piece -- maybe 1/2" by 3/4" -- from a genuine chamois swab (not the cheap artificial stuff, which tastes awful) and put it over your upper teeth.

Best regards.

Ken Shaw

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 RE: Sore upper lip
Author: John Scorgie 
Date:   2001-04-13 07:35

Karel --

First of all, in order to learn true double lip playing, you really need the help of a coach who can actually play double lip in an artistic manner. You will get nowhere listening to the usual misinformation from those confirmed single lip players who do not believe it is possible to play double lip effectively, probably because they themselves gave up on double lip after a brief but painful attempt many years ago, and possibly also because they have never met anyone who could actually play double lip successfully.

The reason we experience pain in the upper lip area on our first attempts to play double lip is that the muscles which control the upper lip area are totally undeveloped, just as the muscles which control the lower lip were totally undeveloped when we began to play the clarinet single lip.

Successful and artistic double lip playing requires the development and control of certain facial muscles of which most single lip players are not even aware. It also requires development and control of the air stream, throat, oral and nasal passages to a similar degree as is achieved by fine vocalists, especially the classical vocalists.

BTW, very few of us play double lip exclusively. Most of us for whom double lip is the preferred method of playing alternate it with single lip. For example, we will play a slow expressive passage double lip and then switch to single lip for certain technical passages, especially fast passages in remote keys which involve serious mechanical problems with the hands and fingers. Or we will switch from one to the other and back again as a way of resting tired facial muscles.

If you will go to Sherman Friedland's Corner on this website, you will find several most instructive items on double lip by Mr. Friedland, including a listing of some of the great clarinetists who played double lip exclusively.

Keith Stein's seminal book The Art of Clarinet Playing has several sections on double lip playing. Stein was himself a double lip player although he did not insist that his students play that way, and most of his top students (such as David Pino) played single lip most or all of the time.

There is a great article on double lip playing dating from the late 1940s written by Ralph McLane when he was solo clarinetist in the Philadelphia Orchestra. It is apparently out of print, as are all too many such pieces.

The best description of a true double lip embouchure I have come across is that written by Alexandre Selmer in the early years of the 20th century. He said that the lips should fit around the mouthpiece like a rubber band, only tight enough to keep air from escaping. This results in a pursing or bunching of the lips, which is the exact opposite of the stretched lips in the "smile" embouchure. If you can find a photo or video of Richard Stoltzman playing clarinet, you will see what I mean. Also see Larry Teal's description of his ideal saxophone embouchure (single lip) in his book The Art of Saxophone Playing. Teal also describes some great exercises for developing strength in the facial muscles.

Back to your immediate problem. While you are developing your facial muscles and air stream, here are a few tricks to help you along.

Resting the clarinet on a knee will help to keep the horn steady, since at first the horn will tend to move around quite a bit. It is better to rest it on your left knee than the right, which is far more commonly done. But resting the horn on a knee will do little if anything to help the pressure problem on high C.

Try this: roll your L first finger upward as if you are going to play a throat A, except move the finger above and past the A key cup and rest the side of the finger on the top of the body of the clarinet, about where the trademark is on a Buffet and on many other makes of clarinet. Using this trick you should be able to sustain a high C without any problem.

Altissimo will be a problem at first but if you perservere, you will be able to play up to super C in tune and more dependably than your single lip brethren and sisteren, provided that your reed is strong enough.

BTW, disregard the talk about double lip players having to use soft reeds. We are the same as single lip players in this regard. Some play soft reeds, some play medium, some play hard. For example, the softest clarinet reed I play under any circumstances is ~ a #3 1/2 Vandoren or ~ a #4 Mitchell Lurie. I usually play ~ a #4 Vandoren or ~a #4 1/2 or #5 Lurie. No, I do not have a callus under my upper lip. I do not have a callus under my lower lip either. The last time I had a callus under my lower lip was in the late 1950s when I played single lip with #2 1/2 reeds.

Another trick is to rest the side of the R first finger on the rod part of the mechanism which includes the three R hand rings. This will help steady the horn, especially if you do not care to rest the horn on a knee.

Lastly, you can help steady the horn while playing open notes such as chalumeau F or high C by resting one or both little fingers on the long keys. Your pitch won't change since there are so many open holes above those closed by the little finger keys.

If all else fails, switch to single lip for the problem notes such as high C until your top lip musculature is sufficiently developed.

Good luck and let us know how you are progressing.

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 RE: Sore upper lip
Author: Karel Vahala 
Date:   2001-04-14 02:44

Brent, Ken and John, many thanks for your comments. I realised that double lip would take more effort; I started using it as a corrective aid for my tendency to clamp down on the reed, having come across it in both K.Stein's and T.Ridenour's books. Many thanks for the more technical advice , John. I live in a town of 20 000, 430 Kms from a larger centre. There are 2 klarinet teachers in town, mine can play double lip less well than myself but knows the technique because his conservatory teacher made him use it as an aid. I have been trying to use it as exclusively as I can manage, but those open notes have been a penance. Thanks for the encouragement, I will persevere.

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 RE: Sore upper lip
Author: Steve Hartman 
Date:   2001-04-14 03:56

One suggestion that John Scorgie didn't mention is to make sure that you're not pressing too hard with your left thumb. You may need to have the spring tension lightened a bit so that you can keep the left thumb pressure to a minimum. That would probably lessen the pressure on the upper lip. It helped me when I was in the process of switching from single- to double-lip.
Steve Hartman

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 RE: Sore upper lip
Author: Karel Vahala 
Date:   2001-04-14 08:10

Thank you, Steve. This really is a great BB. Karel

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 RE: Sore upper lip
Author: LIZZIE 
Date:   2001-04-14 22:34

you should try using dental wax cut a small piece out and form it around your teeth that hit the gum it works really well!

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 RE: Sore upper lip
Author: Karel Vahala 
Date:   2001-04-16 13:18

Thanks, Lizzie.


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