Clarinet Reed and Ligature Placement:
Improve Clarinet Tone and Articulation in a Flash!
by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”
Clarinet (and saxophone) sound is all about reed vibration. The more and better the reed vibrates, the better the sound. (In fact, the embouchure’s purpose is to create a great place for the reed to vibrate – check out my 5-C Clarinet Embouchure and related “E-Tips for E-Lips” Clarinet Embouchure Tips.)
The positioning of the reed and placement of the ligature are profoundly important to reed vibration (and articulation!). These are often overlooked by clarinet teachers, band directors, students, and even some professionals. Below is what works well for me and my students.*
Reed. Line up the reed on the table of 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. 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. (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 too hard, it can be moved down a little – but I don’t do this much.
Ligature. Put the ligature on 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 center the ligature on the reed squarely with equal clamping on both sides of reed. Every ligature I’ve seen has the screw on the right side.
Tip. Put your ligature on first. Then scoot it up a little on the mouthpiece with your left hand sliding the reed in from the top. Then adjust everything as per above. If you put your reed on first you may ruin the tip if you are not careful putting on the ligature.
*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 HERE is to make sure you, your students, etc. actually consider reed and ligature placement and not just “slap ‘em on” haphazardly.
ClarinetMike says, “Take a little extra time to carefully put on your ligature and reed. You will love the results!”