First 6 Months on Clarinet
Hi Chris, I bought myself a cheap clarinet while I was travelling in Argentina (it’s a Benson) and now I'm living in a very small town in Argentina and trying to play it. I've had it since January but only really been playing since March when I stopped travelling.
I felt really lucky to find someone willing to teach me, but he doesn’t teach me anything about playing, he only wants to teach me music theory and has left me to 'practice' alone. I have read lots of things on the internet but it seems I improve for a day or two and then I have more problems... mostly lots of squeaking. At the moment I squeak when I play the A, this is new, and when I play the G in the first octave sometimes it plays in the second octave, without using the key underneath. I play for about an hour a day but my top lip muscles can’t sustain a melody for more than about two minutes then it loses ability to close off the air around the mouth piece and I have to rest my mouth.
I guess what I'm looking for is some suggestions on what exercises I should do... I have been reading the poor embouchure and correct embouchure sections here and it has been helpful...
I would be very grateful if you have some advice.
Thanks for writing. It is unfortunate that your teacher will not help you with clarinet fundamentals while teaching you theory. Teaching both concurrently is the best situation.
From your descriptions, it is hard for me to diagnose without watching you play, but I’ll give it a try.
Make sure you are biting the mouthpiece hard enough that it does not jiggle around in your mouth. If you are squeaking on open G and throat tone A like you describe, it sounds like you are not biting enough.
In my opinion, the most common reason for squeaks is opening up the mouth. By this I mean, opening up the pressure between the teeth on the mouthpiece. Many people have good firm embouchures, but when they get tired, loosen up a little bit, and the squeaks start flying.
It is totally admirable that you are playing for an hour a day this early in your training. You are very motivated! However, your mouth muscles have not caught up with you. I recommend during your hour practice time, finger silently through a line of music occasionally to give your embouchure a break. If you play straight for a full-hour, no wonder your mouth fails toward the end. If your mouth fails often enough, you will try to compensate and develop poor embouchure skills.
So, what can we do about this? Playing long tones or slow scales can help this. Usually play something easily memorized so you can focus on the steadiness of sound.
Let’s take a low C (known as middle C one ledger line below the treble staff)
Start the sound and hold it full and loud. Try to not have any waves in the sound, in other words try to keep the embouchure steady. Hold for about two measures worth of time or two whole notes. Stop the air.
Take the clarinet out of your mouth and off your right thumb for a few seconds. Now, put the clarinet back in the mouth and do the same thing on D.
Play the long tone, give yourself a break, and then to E. Then to F, G, and A.
On G and A, check to see if you squeak like you have described to me. If not, maybe we have fixed this. BUT, you have asked me about this at the end of your practice session. If you are squeaking at the end of the session, try the long tones. If you have muscle failure, I recommend you take 10-minutes off and come back, or maybe break your practice session into two half-hour periods during the day.
Hopefully this will help you some. Please let me know how it works out for you. Welcome to the world of clarinet!