Finding the Right Equipment for Your Students with Betty Bley

Clarinetist Betty Bley maintains a busy schedule as a performer and private instructor. Her students are routinely selected as principal players in local youth orchestras, youth wind ensembles, All-District Bands, Senior Regional Orchestras, and the Virginia All-State Band.

Can you tell us about your clarinet studio?

I teach private lessons in my home studio, as well as sectionals and clinics in middle and high schools in Fairfax County and Loudoun County, Virginia. My private students range from brand new beginners through advanced high school students and adults. I enjoy teaching all types of clarinets, from Eb Soprano to Bb Contra Bass. My studio holds a large and varied library of solo and ensemble repertoire, so my students are exposed to a wide spectrum of music and receive lessons that are tailored to their individual needs and goals, helping them maximize their unique potential. For four weeks each summer, I teach clarinet technique to 125 beginning through high school clarinet students at the Vienna Band Camp.

Any advice on finding the right set-up for students?

Without a good working instrument and the right setup, my job as a teacher and my students’ ability to progress will be limited. Every student is different, so finding the best combination of mouthpiece, ligature and reed for each individual student requires significant time and attention to detail. When you hear a student produce a great sound, and you see the look of pride and happiness on their face, you know instantly that your time and effort toward finding the right setup for them was worthwhile. When I notice that a particular setup is not helping a student realize their potential, we spend some time during several lessons trying out various mouthpieces, reeds and ligatures. During the process, we evaluate tone quality, pitch and response using different  articulations over the full range of their instrument. When we have narrowed down the choices to the two best setups, I let them borrow an extra set for several weeks and let them make the final decision before purchasing the one that works best for them. Periodically students will outgrow their setups, so we evaluate their setup on an annual basis or if we notice specific issues that require a change.

"Without a good working instrument and the right setup, my job as a teacher and my students' ability to progress will be limited."

What products do you typically recommend to students?

For reeds, I recommend that my students try all of the available types made by Vandoren. For Bb clarinet, this includes V21, V12, Vandoren Traditional, and 56 rue Lepic reeds. Before a recent audition, the weather changed drastically, and suddenly everyone was having reed issues. Switching a number of students from V21 or V12 to 56 rue Lepic solved a myriad of reed problems for my students during the fluctuating weather. I play on the Vandoren Black Diamond 13 Series mouthpiece. Several of my students have demonstrated amazing results with this mouthpiece, but it can be too resistant for some students. Other favorites among my studio are the M13 Lyre mouthpiece, the M15 and the M30 (all 13 series). The most popular ligature in my studio is the Vandoren M|O Black ligature. It produces a nice, focused, dark sound with good response and projection.

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