A Beginner’s Guide To Clarinet Embouchure

Written by Jane Collins
Last updated

Proper embouchure is one of the hardest things to learn on any wind instrument and the clarinet is no exception to this. As a beginner, it may be hard to fully wrap your head around the embouchure, but it will come to you with practice. It’s okay if you don’t get it perfect right away and embouchure is something that will continually improve over time for all clarinetists. In this post, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about clarinet embouchure and hopefully answer some of your questions.

What Is Clarinet Embouchure?

First off, embouchure refers to the way that you position your mouth on the clarinet mouthpiece.

The embouchure is arguably the most important factor in creating beautiful sound on the clarinet as it affects how the air travels through your instrument.

Even the greatest instrument won’t sound like one without proper embouchure from the player and even the lowest quality clarinets will improve in sound when good embouchure is used.

Why Is Embouchure Important?

Embouchure is a very important part of not only playing the clarinet but playing a lot of other woodwind instruments.

When playing the clarinet, your embouchure can affect many different things like the sound and tone that is produced by your instrument.

It can also change the intonation of your instrument making you sound sharp or flat.

Once you advance, you’ll be able to use this to your advantage and ensure that every note is perfectly in tune if your instrument is not warmed up properly.

Correct Embouchure For The Clarinet

When first learning the clarinet, it’s a good idea to practice the embouchure without the distraction of the full clarinet before trying to play the instrument.

Do initial embouchure practice using just the mouthpiece, reed, ligature, and barrel.

You’ll have to be mindful of five different parts of your mouth when creating the proper clarinet embouchure which we’ll look at now.

Corners

The corners of the mouth need to be firm around the mouthpiece to create a tight seal and ensure the air you are blowing down the instrument doesn’t escape.

The position of your mouth should be similar to the shape you make when whistling with all the air being directed straight through the clarinet.

To check for escaping air, you can put one hand in front of your mouth to check for any leaks from the corners of your mouth.

Bottom Lip

The next part of your mouth to look at for proper embouchure is the bottom lip.

When putting your mouth over the mouthpiece it needs to be slightly curved inwards and it should cover the bottom teeth but not go any further into your mouth.

This will protect the reed from being damaged by your bottom teeth.

One tip to know if you’re doing it right is if your bottom lip isn’t visible, it’s curled too far inwards.

Upper Lip

The next part of your mouth to look at is the upper lip.

You want to look to have your upper lip resting firmly on the top of the mouthpiece to help create a seal and prevent air from leaking out.

While some pressure needs to be placed on the mouthpiece, don’t be too rough and experiment with different pressures to see what feels right.

Top Teeth

When it comes to your teeth, you want to have top teeth gently resting on the mouthpiece.

But, be careful not to bite down on the mouthpiece as this can cause a pinched sound and even damage it if you bite down too hard.

Chin

And lastly, try to hold your chin and lower jaw down and out.

Your chin should naturally move downwards on its own if the corners of your mouth are tight enough.

Inside Your Embouchure

Your mouth and throat should feel as though you’re trying to produce an “ah” sound.

The roof of your mouth should raise and your throat will feel open to allow a good stream of air to flow freely into the clarinet.

Common Embouchure Mistakes

There are a number of common mistakes that clarinet beginners will make.

These will take conscious effort and practice to avoid but will come in time as you play and practice more.

Biting the mouthpiece is perhaps the most common mistake for beginners.

While you are supposed to rest your top teeth on the mouthpiece, biting down will pinch the reed and restrict airflow.

This will make you more likely to squeak and any notes that come out won’t sound pleasant.

Leaning back and sitting too comfortably will also make your sound suffer.

Sit up straight with both feet planted on the floor as your posture is a very important part of your proper embouchure and will help you blow consistently through the instrument.

A lot of people who are just getting started on the clarinet won’t create a good seal around the mouthpiece.

If your lips don’t create a tight seal around the mouthpiece, the sound will be airy and it will also require more air to produce any sound at all.

Bunched-up chin muscles are another common mistake.

When forming clarinet embouchure, many beginners only think about the mouth and forget the importance of dropping the chin and lower jaw.

Try to remember to account for this and play in the mirror so you can see how your mouth changes as you play.

Squidward from Spongebob square pants may have inspired you to learn the clarinet, but that doesn’t mean that he plays it properly.

The clarinet should be pointed downward at a 30 to 40-degree angle, not straight out.

Puffing out your cheeks may feel like a natural impulse, but it’ll mess with your tone and restrict you from creating proper embouchure.

And finally, keeping your embouchure too tight may seem favorable to letting air leak out, but it’s equally problematic.

It will make it harder to create sound, your tone will suffer, and the pitch will be sharp.

Tips To Help Improve Embouchure

As you practice and improve your clarinet playing your embouchure will continue to evolve.

Below are a few of my tips and tricks that hopefully will be helpful for beginners as well as those with a little more experience:

1. Watch yourself play – Practicing in front of a mirror is usually the best choice, but if this isn’t an option, you can use a front-facing camera. This allows you to see what your embouchure looks like and it will help you to see what you’re doing right and what may need improvement.

2. Be mindful of your posture – Posture may not be part of your embouchure, but it may be the missing piece of the puzzle. Make sure you’re always sitting or standing up straight as bad posture can negatively affect your sound regardless of how good your embouchure is.

3. Practice without the whole instrument – Take some time to practice your embouchure with just the mouthpiece, reed, ligature, and barrel to try to perfect it. Long tones are another good exercise for practicing embouchure once you’re comfortable with the instrument.

Summing up Clarinet Embouchure

There are a lot of things to keep in mind when you’re learning to form the proper clarinet embouchure.

While embouchure technically only encompasses what you do with your mouth, your whole body plays a part in the sound that you create on the clarinet.

This may be overwhelming as a beginner and it will take quite a bit of time to become fully comfortable with forming optimal embouchure.

However, with enough practice, you’ll be able to form perfect clarinet embouchure without even putting much thought into it.

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Jane Collins is a professional musician and teacher who has been playing for over 28 years. She studied the clarinet at college and has a B.S.Ed. in Music Education but also plays a number of other woodwind instruments.