Back to Basics
Things to Remember about Playing the Clarinet
Dr. Lori F. Neprud-Ardovino
Professor of Clarinet/Saxophone
University of Montevallo
- Begin with the Basics:
- Lower lip over lower teeth
- Mouthpiece between 1/4” and 1/2” in mouth, app. 30 degrees
- Upper teeth on mouthpiece
- Head up, pull lips around the mouthpiece as in a
“Drawstring”, corners firm
- Chin flat and pointed down
- With teeth on mouthpiece, breath through the corners
- No cheek puffing or smiling
- With right hand thumb, push clarinet mouthpiece upward in top
teeth to prevent biting down on the reed.
- Always hold head straight, looking forward, never bring head
up or look down to try to get a high or low note to sound.
- Blow with a full breath, keeping the air from escaping from
the corners or the upper lip.
Tonguing – The tongue only stops the reed from vibrating.
- Tip of the tongue touches the tip of the reed
- Tongue pressure should only be as hard as necessary to stop
the reed from vibrating.
- Without the mouthpiece, say “dee” and notice where the tongue
hits behind the teeth, between the top of the back teeth and the gum line.
Say it several times until you can tell exactly where it hits.
- Place the mouthpiece in, forming the correct embouchure.
- Back of tongue should be in an “eee” position, slightly
raised, as if you were saying, “dee”.
- Place the tongue on the reed, in the position where you would
say “dee”. Build pressure behind the tongue and then release the reed.
- Keep air pressure steady and repeat the process, using the
tip of the tongue.
- Start with the “dee” syllable first, and as the articulation
becomes steady you may try for “dut” for a shorter, harder articulation, “tah”, or
“dah” are also used for legato articulation.
- Do not allow the embouchure to move! Check for chin to be
flat and pointed down, firm corners, upper lip firm, and no visible throat
movement. Absolutely no biting.
- There should be no change in pitch during articulation. There
should be no throat sound, or “coughing” sound, no “thunking” sound. This
will indicate that the student is using the back of tongue or the throat to
articulate not the tip of tongue.
- Be observant as you begin working with proper articulation.
It is easy for a student to revert to throat or “anchor” tonguing.
- Use the pads of fingers, not the tips.
- Bring hand to instrument as if you were to shake hands. Allow
fingers to gently close around the keys. Do not grip or squeeze the
- Left hand index finger should be in position to roll back to
the “A’ key. It should not be lifted to reach it.
- Right hand index finger should rest next to or slightly above
the Eb-Bb key, but not support the clarinet with it.
- The left thumb should be at the 2:00 position. Register key
should be played with the side of the thumb.
- The right thumb should be placed under the thumb rest at the
base of the nail and the first joint. Do not let it slide further into
the crook of the thumb. Do not let the clarinet rest on your knee, In time,
the student will get used to the weight of the instrument. Imagine
youhave an egg in each palm of your hand.
- Fingers should always remain as close as possible to the keys
andalways relaxed. Do not let fingers “fling” outward away from theclarinet. Encourage the use of a mirror in practice to check on
handposition as well as checking the embouchure.
- Always maintain good posture with backs away from the chairs,
sitting straight and on the edge of chair, shoulders down and relaxed,
head looking straight forward.