My lips can't cope!

by Emma

All your clarinet embouchure tips were really useful, thank you! But I have a problem that can't seem to be sorted out by any of these tips. I've been playing the clarinet for 6, nearly 7 years now. I'm just about to do my grade 6 (after taking a year out from grading in order to get Theory Grade 5). As the grades progress the pieces get longer & the notes get higher, and my lips are beginning to struggle. After playing clarinet for a while my lips begin to get weak and floppy, to a point where I can't get a note out anymore. Because of the year break from grades I haven't really been practicing much, and now I am having to practicing more again. The problem seems to have worsened! I can play for about 20 minutes straight, but then my lips begin to go. Is it just that my mouth muscles need more exercise, or am I doing something wrong embouchure wise? (Looking at your tips I couldn't see any that I was doing drastically wrong.) If so, what can I do to help?
Thanks so much,


Hello Emma,

Thanks for the question. Since you did take some practice-time off, your mouth muscles have to get back in shape. Playing clarinet is much like a sport of the small muscles. If you do not use them, they go weak.

It is great that you are willing to play 20 minutes straight, but you need to give your lips a break for a little while. What I mean is 'little breaks.' Practice for 3-4 minutes and then take 2 minutes off to finger through the passages silently. Then, blow through them again for another 3-4 minutes.

If your embouchure gets 'floppy' as you noted, take a little more time: Maybe 4 minutes on and 4 minutes off.

Try to set a timer on each occasion. For me, a kitchen timer with two settings works. I've had to go down to one minute playing, and two minutes off before. This will also help you build muscles, but will require more practice time.

The other benefit of 'silent practice' is that your fingers lighten up a little bit. This helps relax your hands and not have so much tension in the fingers.

All of these tips are for long-term building of muscles. Sounds like you have a contest piece coming up soon. For the short term, practice that piece straight through at the beginning of your practice session. Note if you are getting tired during the piece and where that is.

Then, practice the piece in segments. Maybe at first, just up to the place you started feeling tired; Then, perhaps a second and third segment. While doing these segments, keep to the 3-4 minutes on and 2-3 minutes off.

Once you are finished practicing, put the clarinet away, and then later in the day or evening, play through the first segment again and see how your mouth does.

Consistent practice is the key to success. My best student practiced EVERY day. I feel BEST when I practice every day. Practice works. After the contest, it is human nature to stop practicing for a while. Get the clarinet out and practice consistently. If you need help with this, please look at my practice charts, print, and chart your daily minutes or hours practicing.
Best of luck to you and let me know how it works out.


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