Have you been to a concert and watched in awe as a clarinetist plays a solo? They make it look so easy!
But when you pick up the clarinet yourself, you’re surprised at just how difficult it is to produce any sound at all, let alone a quality sound. Your attempt at making smooth and mellow music sounds more like a duck quacking at the local park.
Whether you’re a beginner wanting to learn the basics of playing the clarinet or a practiced musician working to improve your technique, we’ve outlined nine steps to help you produce the polished sound you’re striving for.
Table of Contents
- How To Properly Blow Into a Clarinet: 9 Steps To Producing Quality Sound
- Why Is It So Hard To Blow Into My Clarinet?
- Now You Know How To Blow Into a Clarinet, What’s Next?
- Learn How To Properly Blow Into a Clarinet and More With Northwest School of Music
How To Properly Blow Into a Clarinet: 9 Steps To Producing Quality Sound
Merely blowing into the clarinet will indeed produce a sound — though likely not a pleasant one.
Blowing into the clarinet to produce a beautiful sound involves more than just picking up the instrument and blowing into it. Producing quality sound with the clarinet includes a variety of skills, from correctly putting the instrument together to perfecting your embouchure to breath control and more.
#1: Assemble the Clarinet
Before you can play the clarinet, you’ll have to assemble the five pieces correctly. Putting the clarinet together is pretty straightforward, but you’ll want to make sure the pieces are snugly in place and aligned properly.
Perhaps the most crucial part of assembling the clarinet is attaching the mouthpiece and reed correctly. Attach the reed between the ligature and mouthpiece so that the flat part is facing in and the tip of the reed is even with the mouthpiece. Be careful to not over-tighten the screws.
Parts of the Clarinet
The five basic parts of the clarinet include the:
- Mouthpiece – The top section of the clarinet, which includes the ligature and reed, along with the mouthpiece cover that should be used to protect the reed when not playing
- Barrel – A piece, three to four inches long and slightly flared at one end, that attaches to the mouthpiece
- Top stack – The top part of the main body of the clarinet that contains keyholes and metal keys for the left hand
- Bottom stack – The lower part of the main body of the clarinet with keyholes and metal keys for the right hand as well as the thumb rest on the underside
- Bell – The bottommost part of the clarinet that flares out where most of the air leaves the instrument
#2: Position the Clarinet
To hold the clarinet, follow these simple steps:
- Place your right thumb under the thumb rest on the back of the bottom stack.
- Place the left thumb on the hole on the back of the top stack.
- Place the first three fingers of the left hand on the first three holes of the top stack.
- Place the first three fingers of the right hand on the first three holes of the bottom stack.
#3: Wet the Reed
It is essential to wet the reed to produce a nice sound. Not wetting the reed appropriately can result in a squeaky sound.
The moisture on the reed makes it more flexible and responsive, enabling the reed to vibrate effectively to produce the best sound.
Wet the reed before you play with saliva or put your reed in a small jar of water.
Reeds are available in different softness sizes from 1 to 2.5, and beginners may want to start with softer reeds and progress to harder reeds as their muscles get stronger.
#4: Check Your Embouchure
Your embouchure is the way you shape your lips and use your facial muscles to create the proper seal on the mouthpiece. Perfecting your embouchure is one of the most important techniques to master when learning how to play the clarinet to produce a good sound.
Here’s how to position your embouchure:
- Holding the clarinet at a 45-degree angle, place your upper teeth on the top of the mouthpiece. Your lower lip should lightly touch the reed.
- With your upper lip relaxed, allow your bottom lip to form a cushion against the reed, covering about half of it.
- Create a slight angle with your mouth so that air can flow smoothly over the reed. You’ll need to tighten your lips around the mouthpiece to seal the air. When too much air escapes, it will be difficult to make a sound.
It takes lots of practice to understand embouchure and perfect it.
Taking lessons from a clarinet instructor is a great way to receive the proper embouchure instruction to make sure you’re getting off to a good start. Instructors can model proper technique, suggest alterations, and provide other feedback to help you be the best clarinet player you can be.
Our experienced instructors at Northwest School of Music are ready to help you begin your clarinet-learning journey. Get started today and get your first lesson free.
#5: Take a Deep Breath
This step may seem self-evident — of course, you need to take a breath before blowing into the clarinet. But the quality of the breath you take can make all the difference in how to blow into a clarinet mouthpiece.
Before blowing into the clarinet, take a deep breath through your nose or mouth to fill your lungs with air. Standing while playing the clarinet can help relax your breathing muscles and open up the lungs and diaphragm to take in more air.
A deep breath gives you the necessary amount and quality of breath you need to provide adequate airflow when playing the clarinet. The correct amount of breath can also help with tone, which we’ll discuss in step #7.
#6: Controlled Exhale
Begin blowing a steady, controlled stream of air into the clarinet by gently blowing, utilizing the correct embouchure. Work to keep your lips sealed around the mouthpiece to keep air from escaping. The air should pass between your upper teeth and your lower lip, creating pressure on the reed.
#7: Tone Production
As you blow air into the clarinet with the correct embouchure and air pressure, the reed will vibrate against the mouthpiece, producing sound. This sound can be adjusted by changing the shape and tightness of your embouchure.
Experiment with the force of your exhale, along with the pressure on the reed, to produce the ideal sound.
You might be tempted to puff out your cheeks to push the air through the instrument but work on keeping your cheeks tight for the best tone production.
At first, it might seem awkward to breathe and shape your mouth correctly. It will take some practice to find your sweet spot, but with diligence and perseverance, creating a good tone will eventually become more natural.
You’ve heard the saying, “Practice makes perfect.” Well, maybe — or maybe not.
Instead, we like to say, “Practice makes progress.”
Producing a clear and consistent tone on the clarinet takes practice. Take your time to work on the different elements involved in playing the clarinet — holding the instrument, embouchure, breath control, etc. — to improve your sound quality.
A well-maintained instrument produces better sound. Keep your clarinet in good condition by regularly cleaning it and replacing the reed when necessary.
Follow these care and maintenance instructions to keep your clarinet in top shape:
- After playing, remove the mouthpiece, ligature, and reed from the instrument first.
- Remove moisture by swabbing the clarinet each time you play. Insert the swab into the bell rather than the mouthpiece. Instead, clean the mouthpiece with a tissue.
- Always remove the reed from the mouthpiece, wipe it off, and store it in a reed case.
- Store the mouthpiece with the ligature intact and cover the mouthpiece with the cover.
- Always store your clarinet in the case.
- Wipe moisture off the keys instead of polishing them.
- When putting your clarinet down during practice, always lay it on a flat surface with the keys up or use a clarinet stand.
Why Is It So Hard To Blow Into My Clarinet?
Difficulty blowing into your clarinet is usually due to the condition of the equipment or the musician’s technique. A damaged mouthpiece, keys, pads, or reeds can make it challenging to blow into the clarinet and produce a good sound.
Additionally, blowing into a clarinet can be hard for beginners who are working on their technique and embouchure. Consistent and disciplined practice will make it easier with each practice session or lesson.
Ready to give clarinet lessons a try? The clarinet instructors at Northwest School of Music are committed to helping you reach your goals in a fun way. We offer individual and group lessons for all sorts of instruments, including woodwinds, brass, strings, and more.
Now That You Know How To Blow Into a Clarinet, What’s Next?
Once you’ve worked on the basics of blowing into the clarinet to make a nice sound, you can turn your attention to other techniques that can help take your playing to the next level.
To play the right notes and make them sound the way you want them to, you’ll need to make sure you understand where to place your fingers for each tone. A fingering chart can be indispensable if you’re a beginner.
Once the fingering on the clarinet is second nature, you may want to experiment with special fingerings to produce a variety of tones. For example, some clarinetists may cover or half-cover low-tone holes when attempting a clear or very soft tone.
Articulation may be the key to creating nuances in clarinet playing. Different sounds can be created by how the air is blown into the mouthpiece and how the tongue is employed.
A variety of attacks can be implemented by either blowing air with a “HAAA” or using the tongue to create a “DAAA” or “TAAA” for medium to strong attacks. Playing staccato notes, using the double-tonguing technique, and experimenting with accents are additional ways to change up the clarinet sound.
We’ve all experienced it — listening to instruments not playing in tune. It’s not pleasant, and at times it can be downright painful.
To play in tune, clarinet players need to know how to adjust their instruments to make the tone either higher or lower.
To make the tone lower, the instrument needs to be elongated. To do this, the player will pull the barrel out slightly. The opposite is true to make the sound higher — shorten the instrument by pushing the barrel back in slightly.
For fine-tuning while the musician is playing, adjusting the embouchure may be necessary to change the pitches of notes to keep them in tune.
Take Private Lessons
Sure, you can learn to play the clarinet on your own. There are numerous resources available, like books and online videos, that can be helpful.
But to correctly learn the fundamentals and be poised to improve in your skill, lessons with a private instructor deliver all kinds of benefits.
With a private teacher, you’ll learn the correct techniques from the get-go, get feedback and instruction as you improve, and receive the encouragement needed to stay motivated and disciplined.
Learn How To Properly Blow Into a Clarinet and More With Northwest School of Music
Whether you’re just learning how to properly blow into a clarinet or are interested in instruction to move your clarinet playing up a notch, Northwest School of Music offers private and group lessons to help you meet your goals.
Maybe the clarinet doesn’t pique your interest. We can help you find the wind instrument that suits you and your style.
The team at Northwest School of Music possesses the experience, knowledge, and skill to teach a variety of instruments. Our goal is to share the joy of music in a way that is fun while also helping you realize your musical potential.