Clarinet Thumb Pain

by Dawn
(Shepparton, VIC, Australia)

I played quite seriously in high school--and just took it up again last year. I'd been doing o.k. with two hour rehearsals and some practice, but now...My thumb is killing me! I recently bought a Buffet Greenline R-13 clarinet with an adjustable thumb piece and have a foam cover. I played in the pit orchestra for "Fiddler" --lots of hours over a few weeks and I can barely move my thumb. How can I best adjust, etc. I don't remember ever having this problem with my old LeBlanc (sigh) but it was getting old (ok. so I graduated from high school 30 years ago but I'm not ancient).


Hello Dawn from Australia,

One of the glories of the internet is that we can connect from such far distances. Thanks for writing to Interestingly enough, recently I wrote about clarinet embouchure pain from another question. So, I'm going to provide this link to read through.

At this link, you'll find a concept of resting during your practice session. Playing for 3 or 4 minutes and then taking a few minutes off (1 or 2 minutes) of rest.

I also suggest 'silence practicing' during the 'off' time. If you finger through your music during that time, put the bell of the clarinet on your seat between legs or on your knee. Then place your right thumb ON TOP of the thumb rest while silent practicing.

You probably think I’m crazy! While practicing numerous hours under the study of Kalmen Opperman, I had to pose question to him, "How do I practice more hours if my hand and mouth hurt?" I thought he'd recommend some kind of high-priced surgery or contraption. No, as a true professional, he is told me to do the 'on' and 'off' time I suggested. The downside is it takes plenty of patience and more time overall to practice (compared to playing straight through a practice session).

If you do not have any Kalmen Opperman clarinet studies, I highly recommend the
Intermediate Velocity Studies.

Other ways to improve your discomfort: Padded thumb-rest as you already have noted. The padded thumb-rest cushion I use is the BG Thumb Cushion.

Other options are the:
Runyon Clarinet Thumb Saver * Thum-eez * Valentino Thumb Rest Cushions

Clarinet Neck-strap: Takes the pressure off your right thumb.

Resting the bell of the clarinet on your knees or legs: This item is free, but it does come with a price. The clarinet bell on the knee does change the sound of the lowest chalumeau notes, especially low e, f and f# as well as the clarion notes across the break b, c, and c#. I actually use this method, but more so, plenty of rest.
I write these responses for all, so if you do not know the meaning of chalumeau or clarion, click here.

Of course, when I play standing up, I do not place the clarinet on my legs. I'd develop horrible back problems if I did that. The best 'standing-up' thumb support is the

How do you know when you are playing too long without rests? Pain. Your body is telling you, STOP. This all works with proper discipline. You do not have to stop practicing, just give your hand and arm enough of a rest to relieve the pain.

How do I play "Fiddler," or any other musical or opera in rehearsals or straight-through and give my thumb a rest? Every single time you have a rest, a break, dialogue in the show, etc..., take the weight of the clarinet off of your hand. Put that right thumb on top of the thumbrest and the bell on your chair or knee. Why do I know this works? Experience!

I rarely have the pain I used to experience prior to the 'on' and 'off' practice sessions. When I do have pain, it is because of a recognized 'straight-through' practice session that I had no other option to do. I often associate this type of practicing to 'cramming,' which is not a good practice habit.

Sorry for the long-winded response. I wish you the best of luck playing and practicing clarinet. Patience will relieve your Clarinet Thumb Pain.


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