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  • Writer's pictureQueen Reed

I Sound Bad! Is It My Mouthpiece Or My Embouchure?

Signs that something is wrong with your mouthpiece:

- You are playing a stock mouthpiece -- the one that came with the instrument.

- You “chirp” often, even after changing reeds.

- You’ve been playing that mouthpiece for years and years.

- Your mouthpiece has seen the blaring heat and the frigid cold, or worse - both. (Marching band!, outdoor gigs, or (gasp) left your clarinet outside overnight - please say you didn’t do this!).

- You average 3 or fewer playable reeds out of a box, and you rarely get a performance reed out of a box.

- Your mouthpiece looks like this:

  • See how the edges leading into the opening of the mouthpiece where the reed sits (these are called the rails) are rounded and smooth looking - not razor sharp? They should be razor sharp looking.

  • Notice the scratches that start at the tip and run downward inside the mouthpiece? We don't want scratches on the inside of the mouthpiece. Scratches and teeth marks on the OUTSIDE of the mouthpiece are generally not a problem for how the mouthpiece behaves and sounds.

  • Look at the bottom left of the opening (best seen on the right image), there is a slight wave in what should be a straight edge. These rails should be straight and without waviness, chips, or scratches.

  • Look at the tip of the mouthpiece, see the slightly scooped out section of the top rail on the right edge and the multiple tiny chips along the left edge (best seen on the left image)? The tip is a critical part of the mouthpiece. When the tip succumbs to wear and tear, it's time to replace your mouthpiece.

Signs that something is wrong with your embouchure (no mirror necessary!):

- You have been playing less than 3 years, and you play every few days at most. You’re embouchure may not be “wrong” but it may be underdeveloped.

- You don’t often play more than 20 minutes at a time, and you don’t often play more than 4 days a week. (Sitting in rehearsal for an hour, but playing intermittently for most of that time does not count as playing for an hour). Again, your embouchure may not be wrong, but it isn’t developed enough to be helping you make good sounds.

- You just started marching band for the first time, or are at the beginning of a new season. (Marching band is notorious for messing with an otherwise good clarinet embouchure).

- Your mouth is tired after 20 minutes of continuous playing.

- You can’t play high notes on a hard reed.

If your embouchure is in need of a little TLC, check this out: Hey High-Notes, Get a Load of This Pumped Embouchure!

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