A Guide to Teaching Beginner Clarinet

by Dr. Levana Cohen

Dr. Levana Cohen is a Vandoren Regional Artist. The goal for the Vandoren Regional Artist program is to enhance the quality of the music experience through education and the assistance of Vandoren. These highly trained professional educators and performers will engage your students through educational and fun sessions. The clinics they conduct cover a broad spectrum of topics and, based on your input, can be customized to fit the needs of your students. Contact us today to arrange your free Vandoren clinic.

Set Up & Instrument Assembly

  • Make sure the bridge key is lined up between the upper and lower joints - the pads in the upper joint will seal properly as a result.
  • The reed should be positioned so it “smiles” at you- the ligature should be placed just below the smile.
  • The clarinet should be held at a 45 degree angle away from the body- this insures that the reed will vibrate freely.

Posture and Breath Support

  • The student should sit or stand with a proper posture and then should bring the instrument to the body.
  • Student should learn how to inhale a full-body breath filling up their lungs from the diaphragm up NOT from the chest up. Students can use a “finger-breath” (as described below) to demonstrate what a full body breath feels like.  
    • Practice breathing through your clarinet barrel or breathing through a circle in your fist.
  • Students should learn how to exhale a steady air stream that does not slow down when the body starts to run out of air.


Exterior Qualities

  • No blowfish face
  • The lips should press towards the mouthpiece and the chin/nose should pull away (say EWW to achieve this)
  • Get "taller" between your nose and the tip of your chin - the chin should be flat and pointy

Oral Cavity 

  • The tongue should rest on the top teeth so there is only a small opening at the tip for the air to escape - the pitch will be flat if the tongue is too low in the mouth
  • Play with cold, not warm air
  • Play through the syllable THEEE
  • Say SHH like you would tell someone to be quiet
How much mouthpiece should the student use? 

Place a business card in between the reed and the mouthpiece and where it stops is where you place your lips. Place a piece of black electrical tape on the mouthpiece to remind yourself where to place your teeth. 

Sound Production, Tone Quality, and Intonation

  • Blow more air into the instrument
  • Make sure you a taking in enough mouthpiece (to remind yourself, place a piece of electrical tape on the mouthpiece and slide your upper teeth up to the tape mark)
  • Don't bite so hard (Try using a "double lip" embouchure by tucking your lip over your teeth. If it hurts your upper lip to play then you are biting too hard. Revert back to single lip embouchure when you have the correct amount of pressure)
  • Experiment with the angle of your instrument (If you are holding the instrument too close to your body, then you will cut off the vibration of the reed. The same hold true if you are holding it too far from your body). 
  • Play with a good embouchure
  • Don't use a heavy tongue when tonguing or starting the sound
  • Allow the throat to be inits natural relaxed position (inhale through the barrel of your instrument to see how this feels)
  • Play with a hard enough or soft enough reed


  • Tongue like you speak
  1. Speak Tee, Tee, Tee into the instrument
  2. Blow Tee, Tee, Tee (with no sound)    
  3. Play Tee, Tee, Tee

  • Have the student play legato tonguing in slow motion (especially good for students who don't like their tongue to touch the reed)
  1. Have the student try resting their tongue on the reed gently, while the reed is still vibrating.The player can play through the syllable "Th" to achieve this.  
  2. Next, the player will sustain a sound and rest their tongue on the reed while the reed is still vibrating and will work to articulate this way several times in a row in one breath. The player can say "Thhhhee", "Thhhhee", "Thhhhee" to achieve this. 


  • Generally, students should play starting on nothing less than 2.5 strength reed. If a student uses too soft of a reed, the intonation will be flat, especially in the throat tones. 

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