ClarinetMike’s All-State Preparation Tips: Ligature and Reed Placement

[Below is a slightly revised version of a previous blog post.]

I’m currently reading Pat Williams’ recent book, Coach Wooden’s Greatest Secret: The Power of  Little Things Done Well. The point of the book is that small stuff has a dramatic effect on the success of any given endeavor. Or, as Coach John Wooden used to say, “Little Things Make Big Things Happen.” A great example of this is the placement of the clarinet (saxophone, too!) ligature and reed.

Ligature and Reed Placement 

"Little Things Make Big Things Happen."

“Little Things Make Big Things Happen.”

Clarinet (and saxophone) sound is all about reed vibration. The more and better the reed vibrates, the better the sound. (In fact, embouchure’s purpose is to create a great place for the reed to vibrate – see my 5C Embouchure.)

The placement of the ligature and the positioning of the reed are profoundly important to reed vibration. These are often overlooked by teachers, band directors, students, and even some professionals. Below is what works well for me and my students.*

Ligature. Put the ligature close to the window of the mouthpiece by clamping the reed at the top of the stock just below the cut in the bark below the shoulders. (Illustration of reed parts.) Also, depending on the style of ligature, be sure to put the ligature on the reed squarely with equal clamping on both sides of reed.

Reed. The reed should be almost to the tip of the mouthpiece with only the very smallest line of mouthpiece black visible above the reed.  Also, line up the reed on the mouthpiece so that the tip and side rails (edges) of the reed are squarely on the tip rail and side rails of the mouthpiece. (Illustration of mouthpiece parts.)

Additionally, if a reed is a little soft, it can be “cheated,” i.e. moved up on the mouthpiece just a little. This makes the reed a little stronger; however, it is only a “quick fix” and should not be routinely done. Conversely, if a reed is hard, it can be moved down a little – but I don’t do this much.

*NOTE:  Obviously, there’s a wide variety of possible mouthpiece, ligature and reed combinations – not to mention the personal tastes of a given musician.  Therefore, experimentation with ligatures and reeds is encouraged. The BIG ISSUE is to make sure you, your students, etc. actually consider reed and ligature placement and not just “slap ‘em on” haphazardly.

ClarinetMike says, “Take just a little extra time to carefully put on your ligature and reed. You will love the results!”

About ClarinetMike

American clarinetist MICHAEL DEAN performs and teaches internationally and across the USA to consistent praise such as "world-class clarinetist and pedagogue," "consummate performer," "inspirational," "outstanding teacher," "super," "brilliant performer," and "one of the best clinicians I have ever seen." His career is headlined by appearances at Carnegie Hall, ClarinetFest, NACWPI, Eastman School of Music, and Royal Northern College of Music with recent recitals and master classes in Italy, Spain, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Louisiana, and Texas. In July, he will return to Vipiteno, Italy as Clarinet Artist Faculty in Residence at Orfeo Music Festival 2018. He is featured on 5 commercial CD's and on New Media, such as YouTube. He is currently preparing another new clarinet CD, Postcards from Silver Lake. He's performed with the Southwest Symphony, Nevada Symphony, Abilene Philharmonic, Southeast Chamber Players, Red Mesa Trio, and Duo 35. He performed for 11 years with the Paducah Symphony. His articles appear in journals such as Southwestern Musician, WINDPLAYER, NACWPI Journal and The Bandmasters' Review. As "ClarinetMike," he writes for his widely-read ClarinetMike Blog, in 150 countries on 6 continents. He was recently a tenured Associate Professor of Clarinet for 11 years at Southeast Missouri State University. He returned to his native Texas in 2012 due to family concerns. He is a past president and former National Board officer of the National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors (NACWPI). Dr. Michael Dean studied clarinet performance at Texas Tech University, University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Texas at Austin and University of Texas at Arlington. His teachers include Robert Walzel, Phil Aaholm, Carol Jessup, Jess Youngblood, Bob Ackerman, and Pam Youngblood. His web page,, features video of his teaching and performing as well as information on his CD's and other publications. He is a BG France Performing Artist.
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4 Responses to ClarinetMike’s All-State Preparation Tips: Ligature and Reed Placement

  1. Good advice to which I would add only this: Mouthpieces are not necessarily perfectly balanced, especially as they age. Uneven wear or even warping can occur. Though slight, these changes prevent a balanced reed set dead center to play properly. Often setting the tip slightly off center, and/or the heel slightly off center, will cause the reed to play much better. With a little experimenting, you will find the “sweet spot” for your mouthpiece, and also for each reed that is not exactly balanced.

  2. Pingback: ClarinetMike’s Music Preparation Kit | ClarinetMike Blog

  3. Pingback: ClarinetMike’s Clarinet Teacher Tips: Ligature and Reed Placement | ClarinetMike Blog

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