Good Vibrations: 8 Tips for Maximizing Sound Production on Clarinet

By: Dr. Levana Cohen

When trying to optimize one’s sound production on the clarinet it is important to understand how the sound is produced.  Sound on the clarinet is achieved with the vibration of the reed against the mouthpiece.  If the vibration of the reed is obstructed or minimized in even the most subtle of ways one’s sound production will also be minimized or constricted.

1. Blow more air into the instrument

  • This is the number one reason most clarinetists do not play with a big enough sound. 

2. Take in enough mouthpiece

  • As a reminder for where one should place their top teeth on the mouthpiece, the player can experiment with placing a piece of electrical tape on the mouthpiece and slide their upper teeth down to the tape mark. I like my top teeth to be about a half of an inch from the tip of the mouthpiece.
  • To find where the bottom teeth should go, place a business card in between the reed and the mouthpiece and draw a line on your reed with a pencil where the business card stops.[i]

3. Don't bite so hard

  • Try using a "double lip" embouchure by tucking the upper lip over the top teeth. If it hurts the upper lip to play, then the player is biting too hard. 

4. Experiment with the angle of your instrument

  • Holding the instrument too close or too far from one's body will limit the vibration of the reed. 
  • Holding the instrument at about 45 degrees away from the body seems to be a good distance for most people.

5. Play with a hard or soft enough reed

  • If the reed is warped and it's not resting flat against the mouthpiece facing, try taking it off and rubbing it on top of a piece of paper on a flat, clean surface to "iron it out."
  • One could also simply try massaging the reed on the vamp in between the heart and the shoulder. Be careful, damage to the reed can occur if one rubs too hard too close to the tip of the reed. 

6. Play with a good embouchure

Exterior Qualities
  • No blowfish faces
  • The lips should press towards the mouthpiece and the chin/nose should pull away (say EUWW 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 as if you were saying "thee"
  • Play with cold, not warm air
  • Say SHH through your instrument as you play as if  you were telling someone to be quiet.

In General
  • Pay close attention to keeping a flat chin
  • The lower lip should be smooth and stretched out toward the corners of your mouth

"Keep in mind, the lower lip is the vibrating surface for the reed. The reed will not vibrate properly if one's lip is bumpy or wrinkled."

7. Do not use a heavy tongue when starting or stopping the sound (tonguing)

  • Say tee, tee, tee or thee, thee, thee to start or stop the vibration of the reed.

8. Allow the throat to be in its natural, relaxed position

  • Inhale through the barrel of the instrument to see how this feels

[i] Julianne Kirk-Doyle of SUNY Potsdam

Cohen Clarinet

Seattle born clarinetist Levana Cohen, is an avid performer and music educator.  Levana's artistry, dedication, and professionalism garner her repeat guest performances with numerous orchestras and chamber groups both nationally and internationally performing in such venues as Carnegie Hall, Symphony Space, The DiMenna Center, Flushing Town Hall and the 92ndY, sharing the stage and performing with such artists as Frank Morelli, William Purvis, Steven Taylor and the Emerson String Quartet

As a frequent artist-in-residence at the Banff Centre, Levana has participated in both woodwind master-classes and orchestral training programs there.  She has also performed several concerts with the Tanglewood Festival Orchestra under the direction of James Levine. 

Currently, Levana performs as principal clarinetist for the Astoria Symphony Orchestra and with the Trio D’Amour Wind Trio.  She can also be heard regularly in performance with North Shore Pro Musica and appears at universities nation-wide leading masterclasses, clinics and performing recitals and concertos.

Dr. Cohen holds both a Master of Music degree and Doctorate of Musical Arts degree from Stony Brook University under the tutelage of Daniel Gilbert.  She teaches clarinet at Suffolk County Community College, is a guest lecturer at Stony Brook University, coaches for the Metropolitan Youth Orchestras of NY, is a Vandoren Regional Artist, and operates her own private teaching studio in Port Washington, New York.

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