Learn how to start the sound properly

by Kyle McDaniel
(Castro Valley, CA)

Hello. I was just reading the portion of your blog (which I love, by the way) about the difference between professional and amateur articulation.

You mention that to produce the correct sound, we ought to learn how to start the sound properly.

Could you please explain how that is done? For instance, should I begin the air flow before playing the note? It's hard for me to do, but sounds like a possible answer.

Thanks so much.

Kyle McDaniel


Hello Kyle,

Yes, if I were to give a sequence, this is how I’d line it up:

1. Put the clarinet in the mouth and set the embouchure.

2. Put the tip of the tongue on the reed (just below the tip of the reed).

3. Keeping the embouchure and tongue set, take air into the lungs via the corners of the mouth. Fill the lungs well. (When I say keep embouchure set, keep biting down on the upper and lower teeth, do not open them up to breathe).

4. Blow air while the tongue is on the reed (this builds pressure in the oral cavity).

5. Drop the tongue to allow the air over the reed and into the clarinet (keep the tongue near the tip of the reed until you need to re-articulate).

The best result is a nice, solid clarinet sound to come out. So, tone right away, not any extraneous noise like a flick, thud, or non-intentional forte-piano then tone.

All of the above takes milli-seconds to accomplish, but the sequence of tongue on the reed, air pressure, and release is very important.

Many people take air into the lungs and on the way to blowing out they: Set the embouchure, put the tongue on the reed, and blow creating an explosion of sound. This is something, in my opinion, to avoid in the quest to be a better clarinet player.

A good way to play around with this is to start the sound (don’t worry how the opening sound is) and play a long tone. While on the long tone, take the tip of the tongue and slowly stroke the reed. Slow motion is key here. Let the reed vibrate freely and then deaden the sound of the reed a little (not stopping the air or sound) and then bring the tongue off the reed to full tone. Test this some to get a feel for where your tongue is in relation to the reed.

Now, try starting the sound as described above.

Another very important part, when the tone is active, think about where your tongue is. Try to keep it millimeters away from the reed. This way it is available to re-articulate rapidly.

Asking this question means you are on the way to a great self-awareness on articulation. Once you getting ‘starting the sound’ right, the next step is rapid articulation. All the fundamentals above will help you do this, just at a quicker tempo.

Thanks, Kyle. Let me know how this works out for you.


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