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 Snorting Problem, Biting Problem, Air Leak?
Author: silg98 
Date:   2017-04-04 04:59

I know this is lengthy, so I sincerely thank anyone who reads this and can offer any advice.

I'm 18 years old and I've been playing the clarinet for almost 7 years. A little over two years ago, I was preparing for an honor band audition while aiming for the best tone possible. I achieved the tone I wanted for the audition, but while I was preparing, my throat started to make a faint straining, snorting noise. I didn't think anything of it at first, but shortly after the honor band ended, this problem became worse. The sound became audible to others and started to affect my ease of playing. It's almost as if half of the air that was supposed to be going through the clarinet was coming out of my nose and throat instead. I did change from Vandoren 56 3.5 reeds to Vandoren 56 3.5+ reeds right after the honor band (I really don't know why I did that), so I'm thinking that may have had something to do with the problem.
I dealt with this problem for over a year until I thought I “fixed” it after taking a two-week break from playing. I don't know exactly how I got the problem to go away for a bit, but I think it had to do with tightening/tweaking my embouchure. I didn't change reed sizes. Shortly after the snorting problem went away, though, I think my embouchure became so tight that I developed a biting problem. I couldn't play without serious bite marks on my lower lip and I started to leak air out of the left side of my mouth. Soon enough, the biting started to hurt and it became extremely difficult to move air through the clarinet, probably because of the biting and air leak combined. My technique became so poor that I had to gasp for air every five seconds. Since I “fixed” the snorting problem without changing reed sizes, I didn’t consider reed size as a factor and I stayed on 3.5+ reeds for a while before going back to size 3.5 a few months ago. Switching reed sizes didn’t seem to make any difference at first, but then the biting problem suddenly subsided when I was playing with the softest reeds in the box. I’ve been only playing with those reeds out of fear of the biting problem coming back.
Right now, though, the snorting problem seems to have returned, and when my embouchure gets fatigued, the biting problem returns. Upon looking in the mirror, I realized that the mouthpiece rests more on the right side of my mouth, which could explain the air leak that started at the onset of the biting problem. I tried repositioning the mouthpiece so that it was more centered but it felt very uncomfortable and unnatural. What frustrates me even more than my countless bad habits is my inconsistency; I never know how I’m going to play from one day to the next. I’ve been praised many times for my tone quality in the past, and I love playing when it’s not unbearable, so I’d love to be able to play to my full potential without these obstructions. Any advice on what to do or where to start would be greatly appreciated.

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 Re: Snorting Problem, Biting Problem, Air Leak?
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2017-04-04 06:40

You really need someone who can see and hear you to help sort this out. There is only so much anyone can suggest based on your account alone.

The "snorting" problem that you started with after the audition sounds like it's a failure of the muscles that seal off the nasal passages while you're blowing through your mouth into the clarinet. It's possible that when you were preparing for that honor band you were putting so much stress and strain on the soft tissue in your pharyngeal area that you actually injured something. If I'm understanding your description correctly, I've had a similar problem since 50 years ago I had a tonsillectomy, which I've always suspected resulted in some slight damage. It only happens when I'm tired, so it is most bothersome when I'm out of shape, but it is disabling when it begins to happen.

It went away when you rested for a couple of weeks but then came back. In the meantime, you've gone through some real issues with your embouchure and you've basically, from the sound of it, become disoriented in your whole approach to controlling the sound and the reed. Your account sounds like you've introduced several distortions that need to be straightened out.

The first thing I would suggest is that you go back to the softest reed strength you can control - one that doesn't require a "tight" embouchure that causes biting. Maybe even try a #3 56 Rue lepic if it doesn't go flat in the upper clarion. You may want to get back to the 3.5s that you started with before all of this happened, but use something that requires minimal embouchure effort to focus.

Many people here have suggested, and I will suggest now, that you try at least for awhile to incorporate double-lip in your playing. I began to play double-lip as a grad student to solve my own biting problem. When Anthony Gigliotti, my teacher at the time, suggested that I try it, he meant it to be a temporary aid to help solve a specific problem. For me, it turned out eventually to be permanent, but only after several less than successful tries at going back to single-lip. In any case, double-lip tends to help re-form your embouchure in a way that avoids the upward jaw clenching that is the root of pinching and biting. Start with only a few minutes of double-lip. Then, when you go back to single, try to concentrate on replicating the shape of the double embouchure. You can work to lengthen the time you spend with double-lip, but always with the goal of using it to set up a similar feeling with only the bottom lip covering teeth. It can help if you keep the upper lip engaged, pressing lightly downward toward the mouthpiece and lower lip even when it isn't covering your top teeth.

You may need to read a little about how to form a double-lip embouchure, although I find it more intuitive than a good single-lip tends to be. Bad single-lip embouchures, of course, are easy to form and, once they become habit, are hard to correct.

It would be a great help if you had a skilled teacher who could help you evaluate the result of anything you try to change and maybe also help you avoid many of the trial-and-error mistakes and unproductive alleys you can waste time following if you're doing this completely DIY. The overarching problem at this point is that you've forgotten what an efficient embouchure and efficient blowing technique feel like and, very possibly, your concept of tone has been compromised in the process. You need to remove sources of strain and let things heal and settle.


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 Re: Snorting Problem, Biting Problem, Air Leak?
Author: ruben 
Date:   2017-04-04 13:30

I agree with Karl that double-lip embouchure might help; either as a temporary form of therapy or something you might want to permanently adopt. There's an embouchure-developing method for brass players called: "the Carmine Caruso Method". I think some of its principles can be applied to playing woodwind instruments. The great horn player, formerly of the Met, Julia Landmann I think her name is, has a few YouTube lessons on it that you might want to take a look at and that provide you with the foundations of this method.
Good luck and don't despair!


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 Re: Snorting Problem, Biting Problem, Air Leak?
Author: na1965 
Date:   2017-04-04 17:58

Here is a link to an article about velopharyngeal insufficiency that may be helpful:


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 Re: Snorting Problem, Biting Problem, Air Leak?
Author: gwie 
Date:   2017-04-05 06:36

Afterwards, you also might want to consider finding a much less resistant mouthpiece/reed strength combination, if you think that might be contributing to your problem.

Back in graduate school, I played a Vandoren M15 with V12 or RL56 reeds in 4.5 strength in order to get the sound that I wanted. I had to make a fairly massive physical effort in order to get it to work, and after I graduated I realized that I was having trouble keeping it all together past the second or third hour of playing each day. I was running into issues with air leaks, a tiny bit of snorting (though not as challenging as you describe in your situation), and general facial fatigue.

Brad Behn came to my rescue with a great mouthpiece that allowed me to achieve the sound that I imagined, but with much softer reeds. These days I play on Legere Signature European Cut 3.5 and Behn's Aria 3.5, which tend to run softer than their Vandoren and D'Addario counterparts. I am very comfortable with it and don't have to make a huge effort to make a big sound anymore.

Post Edited (2017-04-05 06:36)

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 Re: Snorting Problem, Biting Problem, Air Leak?
Author: musica 
Date:   2017-04-06 00:01

I too suffered from this problem but after switching to double lip embouchure
it is no longer an issue.

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 Re: Snorting Problem, Biting Problem, Air Leak?
Author: ruben 
Date:   2017-04-06 00:58

Dear Musica, There you have it! I had a teacher that would prescribe double-lip embouchure to his students every time this problem occurred, always with great success. I have always played double-lip, so in my case, he was preaching to a convert. He himslef didn't play double-lip-hardly anybody does these days-but when the problem we are dealing with came up, that was his solution and it always worked.


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 Re: Snorting Problem, Biting Problem, Air Leak?
Author: musica 
Date:   2017-04-06 04:53

Studied with Kal Opperman and made the switch to double lip embouchure
with his guidance.

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