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 Student with Cleft Lip
Author: Carcamalisio 
Date:   2021-08-14 01:55

Does anyone have experience teaching a student with cleft lip? I have a new student with this problem and I can see he is having a pretty hard time producing a sound and maintaining it. I never had to teach a student with this, so I don't know it is because of the cleft lip or other reasons. Any suggestions on how to approach the lessons, if differently at all, or what should I have in consideration?


Post Edited (2021-08-14 01:55)

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 Re: Student with Cleft Lip
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2021-08-14 06:04

Is this student a total beginner, or has he been playing for some length of time, despite his difficulty in producing a sound?

Is there a particular reason why he wants to play a clarinet (or any wind instrument)?


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 Re: Student with Cleft Lip
Author: Carcamalisio 
Date:   2021-08-14 08:11

He is a total beginner with the clarinet, he has played piano for 3 years before. When I asked him, he told me that he chose the clarinet because he liked its sound.

I will wait for now, to see if there's an improvement, but if I see that after a couple of months it doesn't get better, I will talk to his mom. I prefer not to mention that this might be an impediment for him for now (I actually don't know if he realizes it already or not) as it can create an unnecessary lack of confidence.


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 Re: Student with Cleft Lip
Author: Matt74 
Date:   2021-08-14 09:59

Only he can figure out whether or not it will work. He seems to be optimistic.

It's to be expected that it will take him longer to get the same results. I'm sure that he's keenly aware of the situation. He may have to do things differently, and that may take time to figure out. Instead of deciding what you think, ask him what he thinks. Don't be afraid of discussing it with him. You can probably strategize with him about how to approach challenges. You may have to think outside of the box. Be patient.

Django Reinhardt played guitar with only three fingers.

I have a good sized brain tumor and epilepsy. I completed 9 years of college, studied several subjects, and have a master's degree. I can do things that most healthy people can't do. Of course, there are things I can't do, and things that I'm really bad at - but nothing is worse than struggling and having people always doubting you. They tend to judge you on your failings and ignore your successes.

This is something that he has chosen for himself, let him figure it out. You sound like you are doing your best to help him.

- Matthew Simington

Post Edited (2021-08-14 10:20)

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 Re: Student with Cleft Lip
Author: SunnyDaze 
Date:   2021-08-14 11:23

I would absolutely agree with what Matthew has said. I'm in a similar situation. A sensitive and helpful teacher is an absolute Godsend.

I think the really important thing will be to find out how sensitive the child is about the disability and how able they are to discuss it. That will underpin everything else.

I think that for getting information on the condition itself - the dentists on the forum will be able to tell you the really important stuff. I wonder if perhaps a prosthesis of some kind would help to get the student control of the top of the mouthpiece? The dentists would know.

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 Re: Student with Cleft Lip
Author: Katrina 
Date:   2021-08-14 17:46

I have a student whom I've taught for about 4 years now who has a repaired cleft lip. The only modification she's had to make is to have a fairly asymmetrical embouchure.

Depending on the way the lip is formed you will probably have to experiment with "alternative" positions. One of this student's middle school band directors always marked her down due to the asymmetry. I don't have a perfectly symmetrical embouchure either (due to a slightly chipped tooth) and I would have to look really hard to find anyone with a perfectly symmetrical embouchure.

Many of us hold the clarinet at different angles away from the body. Why should left/right symmetry be any different?

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 Re: Student with Cleft Lip
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2021-08-14 18:10

I agree with Matt - please don't take my questions in my previous post as a suggestion to cut him off or try to convince him to play violin. If he's strongly enough motivated to play clarinet and perseverant, he deserves a chance to find his own way with your help. Time will tell.

I assume you've talked with the his mom about this process and that she is aware that his lip is a factor that may complicate (but not prevent) his success. Does she have access to anyone who could serve as a resource for advice or help in suggesting workarounds for any specific issues that come up? Has he had any corrective surgery done? If so the surgeon might have insights.

Depending on what I actually heard during his lessons, I'd be inclined to have him stay in the chalumeau longer than I otherwise might, just to avoid the added resistance of the clarion notes for awhile. If his mouthpiece, reeds and instrument are working well in a general sense, trying easier-blowing mouthpiece-reed setups than you might normally use with a new student might help. Judge by the result. If air isn't leaking through the cleft (you don't describe how extensive it is in your student), weakness in the upper lip can be gotten around - most beginners young or older don't involve their upper lip much. It just has to keep air from leaking out. Many players never involve the muscles of their upper lips much if at all (despite their teachers' efforts).


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 Re: Student with Cleft Lip
Author: SecondTry 
Date:   2021-08-14 21:12

I would imagine there to also be several medical factors to consider as it regards whether this student should try clarinet or the likelihood that his birth defect won't get in the way to the point of the effort proving futile--as if clarinet weren't frustrating enough for the beginner sans anatomical limits.

I don't mean my--what I hope--desire for objective clinical findings here to get in the way of hope or the degree to which the human spirit can overcome adversity, but there are all types of clefts, of all different sizes, and I am assuming that this has been repaired at some point in his life, and has healed for some duration of time.

Perhaps a medicinal consult as it regards his ability to maintain a seal around the mouthpiece, and the stresses this places on whatever limitations his wound may present might be indicated.

Interestingly enough I'd be curious to know if, on the one hand, double lip embouchure was anatomically impossible, or ironically enough, exactly the needed approach: the top teeth sealing on the inside upper left before the point of cleft.

...interesting, inspiration stuff. I'm curious to hear about this going forward. :)

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