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Clarinet Lessons: Embouchure

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Dealing with the embouchure, there
are two kinds that are the most common,
single lip and double lip.
Single lip,
we use our lower lip to cover our bottom
teeth and we put the reed on the bottom.
Which is what has been
the most traditional way of
playing the clarinet since the 1820s
when the Germans started doing it.
Before that the clarinet was
being used with the reed on top.
Basically you were forced
to use double lip.
Now, the advantage to single lip is that
because you're having your
upper teeth on the mouth piece,
you can actually have a more secure
grip on the mouthpiece because
you are actually using your teeth
to hold on to the mouthpiece.
And therefore it feels easier
to play standing, etcetera.
And double lip,
we basically have both lips touching,
having the contact on the mouth piece.
Now I must admit that I have yet
to find somebody who does not sound better
playing double lip than single lip,
myself included.
But I started in single lip and
then you know, it's one of these things
that I got busy, I never really
spent the time to get myself 1,000%
familiar or confident using double lip,
but I actually use it
a great deal of times now especially when
playing lyrical solos, for practicing.
Because using double lip,
there is one very important thing that
happens which is that when we curl
the upper lip around the teeth,
there is a physical phenomenon
that we just naturally do this.
That the tongue gets curled inside.
Now when the tongue gets curled,
if you try to just be normal, and
then cover your upper
teeth with your lips.
You will see that the tongue
starts getting curled.
Now, that curl is actually
extremely important for voicing,
which we will be talking later.
But it's for
getting the proper clarinet sound to go.
So when one uses double lip, one of the
advantages is the voicing will be better.
We can definitely play with a better
way of blowing through the instrument,
and because we're doing the double
lip that we avoid clamping down,
which is one of the side
effects of single lipping.
Because we feel stronger we can
just produce too much pressure
on the mouthpiece.
And we have also a bigger oral cavity.
When we have a bigger oral
cavity then we actually have
more resonance for the sound.
The other thing that is really important
and advantageous about using double lip
is that we get a better connection
with how our fingers move.
Now, at the beginning when we try double
lip, it will feel like it's unstable,
and a lot of people who criticize the
double lip approach say that it's actually
very unstable to play because
the mouth gets tired and
most people cannot play for
a long time playing double lip.
But if we stop to think about
the fact that if we have been playing
professionally or
at a student level, college level,
we have been playing single lip for
eight, ten years.
And then we try to apply that to
the upper lip all of a sudden.
The upper lip has to play catch up.
So it will be natural, and
it's okay for it to feel a little
bit sluggish at the beginning.
And eventually, we will create strength
for the whole facial musculature.
Now the other thing is that you
have to be thinking about is that
if that were true that playing
double lip is unstable for
the instrument then oboe players
wouldn't be able to play standing,
they would have to be holding their
instrument or basoon player, you see.
So, it's not necessarily
a valid point to be
thinking that if one plays double lipped
then the instrument will be unstable.
Yes, it will be unstable for a little bit
while we're getting our strength, but
it definitely helps to be
able to play it with a more
fluid tone and better finger technique.
One of the other things that we have to
think about in double lip is that we have
gotten so used to getting so
many instructions of, chin down, lips to
the side, make sure to curl the upper
lip in a way that imitates double lip.
And all the things are basically correct,
but they are false.
It would be just as effective as me
trying to describe how do you do
a wink to a girl you really like, or
how do you get the angle its
ridiculous to be thinking that way.
You practice like we all did in 5th grade
how to wink in front of the mirror,
and then you hope for the best.
But one of the things that I
would like to show you is that
when we think of single lip and
chin down and the lips to the side,
it can create a little bit of tension.
Thinking that it's like a rigid process,
of getting an embouchure.
That is the single lip,
which is the normal way that I play.
Now when we do double lip we will put
both lips touching the mouth piece.
So no teeth contact on the mouthpiece.
Now, the effect that it feels for
me is that then I am
definitely in better touch and
better contact with what I'm doing with
the fingers and how I am managing the air.
Now, it might be a little bit difficult to
hear the difference but
the way that we can
definitely see the differences,
and hear it,
is when we play something slow like
That's in single and
then we try double lip
So right there I felt that I could
understand exactly when I was
going to use the air and
increase the tension to the sound.
So, what I would recommend is to practice
double lip at least five minutes a day.
Just five minutes.
Then we will be able to get used
to the musculature of the face,
and what the feel of having that
open aperture in the mouth,
the inside of the mouth, and
how we're using the upper lip.
And then we try to imitate
it as we play single lip.
I think that if you do it every day
five minutes and then after a couple of
weeks you add just one minute per week,
you will feel more and
more confident to use it and then you
might even decide to play double lip
which is completely advantageous in every
single way of playing the clarinet.
It's one of the things that
unfortunately I must admit that it's
one of the things that do
as I say not as I do but
it is one of those things
that I'm using more and more.
It's one of those things that I regret not
doing all the time because I do know that
I sound better but
it's just a matter of habit.
So I'm having an inner conflict myself
just come on let's go ahead and
just do it becauseI know it definitely
improves my finger technique,
my staccato, my legato.
So i'm basically working harder
than I have to just out of habit.
Be smarter than I am and
try to use double lip little by little.
Talking about the Embouchure,
now we will move onto the position of
the mouthpiece on our mouth and the amount
of mouthpiece that we will be using.
Now, traditionally we are told to take as
much mouthpiece as possible because that
will allow us to have more reed vibrating
and therefore a bigger tone etc.
What the fine print, or
what we don't really discuss is that for
every action there's a reaction.
And if we're taking about taking
a great deal of mouthpiece,
yes we will have a lot of reed.
Let's imagine that this is our jaw and
this is our upper teeth.
If we have a lot of mouthpiece down,
you'll see that there is a great deal of
reed that vibrates, which is nice,
but also the embouchure,
where the lower lip is,
is at thicker part of the reed.
Therefore, any movement
that we may want to do,
any adjustment in the pressure or
in the kind of sound is actually a great
deal more difficult because we are in
a part which is harder to control.
So if we take too much mouthpiece,
then we end up having to bite a little bit
too much if we want to change the sound,
which is not good because we don't want
to be adding pressure to the reed.
We want the reed to vibrate fully.
Conversely, if we take too little
mouthpiece, then it will be too easy to
close the reed with too little pressure.
Therefore, we do have that much reed
vibrating so that also brings up problems.
So we always have to find a good
compromise where we might find a place
were there is enough strength on
the reed that it can withstand the force
of the air, the speed of the air and
that we can control it in a way that
requires very little pressure or
any kind of pressure at all.
So, that way we have more flexibility.
I actually prefer to have maybe not
as much mouthpiece on the mouth,
but this forces me to be relaxed.
Because if I am clamping down,
then the sound gets tight,
it can squeak, and
the sound will be too small.
So the reason why I like just a little
bit less than the traditional extra
then you get more flexibility and
an easier amount of air, and
it forces you to be relaxed.
Now let me just demonstrate
with my traditional,
my regular way of playing.
I'll play a scale and
then you can hear the sound.
Now if I take just a little bit more.
See, I start getting a bigger sound, but
perhaps it's a little bit more open.
If I take a little bit
less than my normal.
See it gets a little bit tight.
So what the most important thing that
we have to think is flexibility.
Find where the position
of the on the mouthpiece
is in the most optimal place for
your embouchure, for
your teeth, and wherever it allows
you to feel like you could make
more colors and be more musical.
If we see pictures of many
of the most famous players,
you can see that there's
an encyclopedia of how
many places to put the embouchure because
they are all completely different.
We have people who have great overbites,
it looks like it's backwards.
It looks like there is a lot of upper lip.
Sort of like Mr. Robert Marcellus, he had
a big overbite, so it looks like this.
It looks more like.
Like this.
But that's what works for
him because he has the overbite.
So if we try to do that when
we don't have an overbite,
then we would be sacrificing our tone.
So the most important thing is
find what works best for you for
the kind of sound that you want to make.
And make sure that it allows you
flexibility for phrasing, for
color, and without tension.