Clarinet Embouchure/Air

by Paul Vinken

Hello Chris,

I am playing for 5-6 years now. In the last year I am trying to improve myself a lot, somehow it went wrong while trying to do it. Now I even 2.5 reeds are hard to play with. It feels like a 3.5 reed.

The air seems to be right, I can blow up a tiny balloon (little smaller than those 'party' balloons) without problems. Because of that, I am searching the internet for some useful tips on how to improve the embouchure.

I've landed on your site and tried everything, but without any improvement. It feels like the air isn't going good into the reed and that something in my mouth is wrong.

What I tried:
Straightened the lower lip, so that is it more straight just like you have in your pictures.
Straightened up the cheek/chin, so it is flat.
I also played with my tongue, lowering and highering the back of it.

All these have no results and I am getting quite frustrating with it.

I can get sound out of the clarinet but when I play from the C (in the notebar) to the higher C (just above the notebar), the A,B and the high C always sound to low..or at least not in tune. It sounds terrible!

Even playing the normal G (in the notebar) I can hear a lot of dust or noise. Which I can't get rid of.

I hope you can help me!

Thank you very much.

Paul Vinken


Hello Paul,

Thanks for writing. Congratulations on persistence and keep working on it. I’ll do my best to give you some advice, but having a private teacher to listen, watch, and analyze what you do is always the best.

With the reed, either 2.5 or 3.5, make sure it is set on the mouthpiece and that the tip of the reed is "flush" with the tip of the mouthpiece. If the reed is higher than the mouthpiece, it is possible you are closing off air from getting into the mouthpiece.

Have your clarinet looked at by a repair-person. Have them run a leak light into it or a suction device that can monitor leaks. Maybe your problems are with the instrument. Another problem with being flat on clarinet (like your high notes A, B, and C), have the repair-person clean out the tone holes. Often, when you pull the swab off the floor, it will put dirt and dust, and cat hair or whatever into the tone holes of the clarinet. These holes build up with 'gunk' and therefore flatten the sound.

About open G, make sure your mouthpiece is cleaned out well. So you do not warp the mouthpiece, use only cold water to clean it and do not scrub with a hard brush. Mouthpiece gunk or tone hole gunk can create the dust or noise sound you describe.

So, the 'dust' sound, is it like the popping sound of cooking scrambled eggs? If so, it is likely a reed problem. You are smart to try a softer reed, but the softer reed should definitely clear up your sound. This is why I suggest the gunk in the mouthpiece or tone hole as above. However, the softer reed will likely play flatter than harder reeds, especially with the higher clarion notes.

Now, embouchure, make sure your chin is flat. Also, when you make the chin flat, make sure you are still biting down on the mouthpiece. So many people make a beautiful flat chin, but do not put enough pressure on the mouthpiece. It is a fine balance.

Now, in your search for a clarinet teacher, the right one will help you with every one of these issues. The awesome combination of clarinet teacher and instrument repair is out there, so ask around.

Best of luck, keep practicing, and let me know how things are working out for you in the Netherlands.


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