Clarinet Reed and Ligature Placement: Improve Clarinet Tone and Articulation in a Flash!

When ClarinetMike records a cool new work for a CD, careful reed and ligature placement helps him sound great!

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!”

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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9 Responses to Clarinet Reed and Ligature Placement: Improve Clarinet Tone and Articulation in a Flash!

  1. Michael Brown says:

    Any recommendations or considerations concerning ligatures?

    • ClarinetMike says:

      Thanks for the question-I play on and recommend BG ligatures-I specifically play on BG Super Revelation (full disclosure-I am a BG Artist). I also like the Vandoren Optimum.

  2. Karl Coetzee says:

    Truely, theres no other way

  3. Marilyn Bachelder says:

    Is there an absorbent ‘stick’ swab you can recommend for mid-performance removal of moisture gurgles? I don’t see how synthetic stick swabs can suffice.

  4. ClarinetMike says:

    Full Disclosure – I’m a BG Artist.

  5. Pingback: 7 Tricks For Clarinet Teachers | ClarinetMike Blog

  6. Pingback: ClarinetMike’s All-State Preparation Kit: 10 Ways to Upgrade Your Performance! | ClarinetMike Blog

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