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
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 clarinet 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, 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 very 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!”
(The above is a very slightly revised version of a previous post.)