I'm not sure if I'm properly breathing/articulating?

by Faith

Hello there,
I've been playing the clarinet for about 5 years now, and l have had this problem for quite a while, but it wasn't one that really affected my playing, until now. What makes me think that I don't have proper air support is because when ever I play and I articulate, there's this really weird sound in my mouth. It really hurts, it's like I'm playing with a stuffy nose, but I'm not. When I play and that sound is in my mouth, I can't really keep my air stream steady. It doesn't happen when I'm playing a whole note, but if it's a note held for about 12 beats, the sound comes again. The sound isn't something a person can hear when I'm playing but it's really annoying, it's only a sound I can hear. I know if that sound goes away I'll be a much better clarinetist. Can you give me advice, or tell me what's wrong, or why it happens? Thank you. (:


Hello Faith,

Many apologies for the long delay in my reply. One question I have is, “what really hurts, “The mouth, teeth, throat, neck, lungs, or nasal passages?”

I’ll tell you what I think is going on with the extra sound. Sometimes we build up so much air pressure in our mouth that the air only has two places to go. 1. Into the clarinet. 2. Leak through a nasal passage.

Logically, when you blow on the clarinet, air is not going out of your nostrils at the same time. But if you have a good deal of pressure in the mouth, kind of a back-pressure will open up a nasal passage and create a “clicking sound.” You might only hear it at first, but if someone is close enough to you, like a band director or clarinet teacher in a lesson or a stand partner, will hear it if you ask them to listen for it.

So, now what do we do? You might have to play a lighter reed as you analyze this situation. Hard reeds, while they will sound darker and give you more success in high notes, can cause a good deal of stress to the mouth, embouchure, and air system. The more stress and anxiety you feel from those parts of the body will also lead to posture, shoulders, and into your fingers. All of a sudden, your entire body is stressed out.

Analyze how well you are taking in air to your lungs. If you do not breath in enough, and start blowing, the pressure from the lungs will not be enough to make a good sound. All of a sudden, other parts of the body try to add-in pressure, like your cheeks, or your mouth, or your neck. If your neck is really stressed, I’m willing to bet it is compensating for not breathing enough.

When you breathe, take in so much air into your lungs that you can only exhale. Now, do that into the clarinet. Also, try to blow through to the bell of the clarinet. Blowing through like this makes your air fly well into the clarinet and not the nasal passages. Taking enough air also gives enough oxygen to continue through the piece. If you are huffing and puffing through a piece of music, you will stress out and your body will follow you.

Okay, I just read through your note again. Apparently, it happens more when you articulate. Remember what articulation is, your tongue is interrupting the vibration of the reed to create either a legato tongue (light stroke), or stopping the vibrato (making daylight between the notes). If you really do very staccato articulation, where is that air pressure going? Probably out your nasal passages as described above.

Now what do you do with this? Really analyze when the extra sound happens. Play long notes and then play legato (not articulated scales). Then, play very legato scales. Then, very separated scales. Try these ideas, and please contact again and let me know your findings.


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