Tips for Maximizing Tone Quality for Clarinetists

by Betty Bley

Betty Bley is a Vandoren Regional Artist. The goal of the Vandoren Regional Artist program is to enhance the quality of the music experience in your school. This is made possible by Vandoren and a network of woodwind professionals around the country with a passion for music education and performance. 


The ideal clarinet tone is clear, centered, focused, dark, and demonstrates confidence and skill. Clarinet tone that requires improvement is usually characterized as thin, bright, nasal, fuzzy, wavering, unsteady, and unfocused. You do not need to be a professional clarinetist to play with excellent tone!

To develop your concept of great clarinet tone, it is important to listen to live performances and good recordings of professional clarinetists. You should compare your tone quality to the performances you hear, and strive to make your own tone sound like the professional you most admire.

To Achieve Excellent Clarinet Tone, You Need: 

1. A Good Reed That Is Well Balanced And Not Too Soft Or Too Hard.


2. A Consistent And Correct Embouchure:

  • Keep your chin firmly stretched and pointed.
  • Grip the mouthpiece firmly with your upper teeth (A rubber mouthpiece cushion such as the Vandoren VMCX6 thick black mouthpiece cushion will make your grip much more comfortable and secure than a bare mouthpiece or thinner mouthpiece cushion).
  • Don't bite with your lower teeth.
  • Don't squeeze the reed with your lower lip.


3. Consistent And Correct Air Support

  • Use your core muscles to push fast cold air.
  • Don’t allow your air speed or air support to decrease, especially when you are tonguing.
  • Sit straight and tall with both feet flat on the floor under your knees (or stand while playing).
  • Bring the clarinet up to you, and don’t tilt your head downward when playing.
  • Keep your throat open.
  • Project your sound to your audience. 

"Constantly listen to your sound and evaluate your tone." - Betty Bley

4. Correct Tongue Position (Keep Your Tongue In The "Hee" Position). 


5. Attention To Detail: 

  • Constantly listen to your sound and evaluate your tone. 
  • If you don’t love what you hear, fix it!


6. The Right Mouthpiece

  • There is not a universal mouthpiece that is correct for every clarinet player. 
  • The stock mouthpieces that come with new clarinets are not typically the best option. 
  • Try several mouthpieces with several reeds to see which mouthpiece is best for you. Be sure to check your pitch, articulation and response with different attacks and dynamic levels in each register when you are evaluating mouthpieces.



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