I recently posted my Single Lip-Double Lip (aka 5-C) clarinet embouchure on this blog (CLICK HERE). Below are 5 related embouchure tips that I strongly suggest using with it. In addition to working GREAT with the Single Lip-Double Lip embouchure, I also think these tips will generally work well with pretty much any clarinet embouchure on any size of clarinet AND will also be helpful on saxophone. Further, I think that these tips will help fix at least some of the problems in other clarinet and saxophone embouchures. Each tip below begins with the letter “E” and gives an important concept, thus “E-Tips.” The “E-Lips” refers to embouchure.
NOTE: The tips below are a shortened version of “E-Tips for E-Lips.” The complete version containing important acknowledgements (especially my heavy debt to master single reed teacher Joe Allard) can be found HERE.
Clarinet Embouchure: 5 E-Tips for E-Lips SHORT VERSION
by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”
E-Tip #1: Engage. “Keep Lower Teeth Engaged.” Beneath the reed, keep the lower teeth right under the bottom lip – do not allow space between the lip and teeth. Think “Reed, Lip, Teeth.” You want to somewhat feel the reed through the lower lip with the bottom teeth. But, don’t push up too much. Think in terms of creating a good platform for the reed to vibrate upon. Keeping the lower teeth engaged allows for sensitive adjustments to the sound, as there is a close connection to the resonator (reed vibrating against the slot of the mouthpiece).
E-Tip #2: Edges. “Don’t Pinch the Edges of the Reed.” Be sure to keep the lower lip flat against the reed so as not to crimp the sides of the reed. Once past the reed, the lips need to seal to keep air from leaking out. Remember, clarinet sound is produced by the vibration of the reed. The more the reed vibrates, the more sound is produced.
E-Tip #3: Eee’s. “Use ‘Eee’ Syllables.” I’ve found it very helpful to voice[i] these syllables in the specified ranges when playing in different registers on the (Bb soprano) clarinet:
“Tew” low register (below Open G) with a French pronunciation[ii] (see video clip below)
“Tee” Open G up to second space C in the staff
“Dee” C# in the staff and higher
Notice above, that each syllable has a progressively higher “Air Position” than the next. By “Air Position,” I am referring to how high the air goes through the mouth. (I suggest trying this by whispering “Tew, Tee, and Dee” in succession. Notice that the air is higher on each one.) The basic idea is that the higher one plays on the clarinet, the higher the air should go through the mouth. I think it is easier to think “Air Position” than “Tongue Position.”
These voicings help not only with embouchure, but also help out greatly with tonguing. It was a big breakthrough for me to finally realize that embouchure and articulation are very closely related. [There is a video clip of me pronouncing and explaining these syllables available on my website – Click HERE and watch “Embouchure: Tongue Position = Air Position.”]
Another important and useful syllable is “Hee.” It has a very high air position and works really great for me for voicing Super High G (fourth ledger line above the staff). However, it is not usable in the same way as the others because it is not good for tonguing. (In warm-ups, I’ll whisper “Hee” a few times to set the voicing and then play a Super High G with a “Dee” articulation.) “Hee” is also very useful pedagogically in explaining to a student about voicing and “Air Position.” (Have the student whisper “Tew” or “Tee” and then have them whisper “Hee.”)
E-Tip #4: Ex. “Say syllable ‘Ex’ – Lower Teeth Give, Top Teeth Receive.” Don’t bite down hard on the mouthpiece with the top teeth – i.e. don’t push down with head. Think in terms of top teeth “receiving” the mouthpiece from the lower teeth as when saying the syllable, “Ex.” As with all of these concepts, it is important to personalize this to a clarinetist’s unique physiology, equipment, etc.
E-Tip #5: Eat. “Use ‘Chewing Muscles’ Up High.” Starting about High E (third ledger line above the staff) and higher, put molars and back teeth very slightly closer together as if chewing something. Be sure to use “Dee” voicing (see E-Tip #3). The higher the note, the more “chew” is needed. The key to playing up high is to find the best spot in your air position, embouchure, mechanism (i.e. your body), etc. for each note. Or, as Joe Allard used to say, “Every note has its own special feeling.” (This is true for all notes in all registers, actually.) As with the other E-Tips, this concept will take some experimentation.
[i] “Voicings” such as these are used to help with the position of the air, tongue, embouchure, mouth, etc. A clarinetist should be careful to not move the jaw the same amount s/he does when actually speaking these in normal conversation.
[ii] On “Tew,” do not drop the bottom teeth away from bottom lip (See Tip #1 above).
[The above is a slightly revised version of a previous post.]