ClarinetMike’s Clarinet Teacher Tips: Ligature and Reed Placement

“Little Things Make Big Things Happen.”

“Little Things Make Big Things Happen.” John Wooden

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."

Great Reed Vibration = Great Clarinet Sound

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.)

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 Canada, Italy, Spain, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Louisiana, and Texas. In July, he will again return to Vipiteno, Italy as Clarinet Artist Faculty in Residence at the international Orfeo Music Festival 2019. 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. Dr. Dean has given more than 500 clinics, master classes and performances at high schools, universities, conferences and other venues. For 11 years he was a clarinetist with the Paducah Symphony and he's also performed with the Southwest Symphony, Nevada Symphony, Abilene Philharmonic, Southeast Chamber Players, Red Mesa Trio, and Duo 35. His articles appear in journals such as Southwestern Musician, WINDPLAYER, NACWPI Journal and The Bandmasters' Review. As "ClarinetMike," he writes for his widely-viewed ClarinetMike Blog, the Internet’s #1 clarinet blog read in 150 countries on 6 continents: After a successful 25 years of teaching clarinet at the university level, he relocated to his native Texas 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, and Bob Ackerman. 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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1 Response to ClarinetMike’s Clarinet Teacher Tips: Ligature and Reed Placement

  1. Pingback: ClarinetMike’s Clarinet Teacher Tips: Improve Your Clarinet Tone with Better Ligature and Reed Placement | ClarinetMike Blog

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