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  • Writer's pictureQueen Reed

So you want to buy the same mouthpiece as Dr. AmazingClarinetist?

So you can sound just like them of course!? Not so fast. Here’s why:


A student’s mom recently contacted me because the juniors and seniors in the high school clarinet sectional told the student that he needs a better mouthpiece (true, he did), and that the mouthpiece should be one of two models that everybody in the section is using so they can all sound good and sound like each other. This is where the well-meaning advice broke from reality.

None of the mouthpiece makers, or music equipment retailers wants me to say this, but you just are NOT going to sound like someone else by putting on the same mouthpiece they use. (Or the same ligature, or clarinet, or reeds, any more than wearing the same shoes as Usain Bolt will make me run like him).

There are two fundamental truths to consider anytime we think we will sound like Anthony McGill by popping on the same mouthpiece he uses.

Truth #1: When we blow to make a clarinet sound, our air is physically bound by our throat and oral cavities before it ever reaches that fancy mouthpiece. Our oral cavities from throat to lips are different sizes and different shapes. For example, as my childhood frenemies saw it, my mouth is quite big.

In other words, What’s best for you is determined by you, not others.

Think of mouthpieces like shoes (and who doesn’t like to think about great shoes!) Maybe Nike fit your feet really well, maybe Adidas don't. They're both good shoes, but usually one is going to be better for you than the other. The mouthpiece that fits you and helps you play your best isn’t necessarily the same that works for someone else in your section because your oral cavities are different.

Truth #2: Our depth of control over the movements of our tongue, cheeks, lips, and palate, matters tremendously, and that control comes with experience.

Which is why If your embouchure isn’t ready, the mouthpiece won’t matter.

Moving to a better mouthpiece can make you sound instantly better, but only if your embouchure is up to the task. It's like any other piece of equipment, the user has to be adept enough for better equipment to matter. If I have a student model trombone and a professional model trombone, I will sound the same on them - like a bad trombone player - because I suck at trombone. I don't have the requisite experience and most especially haven't built the right muscles in my embouchure for trombone.

These two truths are why you can take Clarinetist A and Clarinetist B who have nearly identical practice habits, experience levels, same former teachers, same etude books, etc., put them on the same equipment from reed to ligature to mouthpiece to clarinet (throw in matching shoes for funsies), and they may still sound nothing alike. In fact, there may be some other player using completely different everything who sounds more like clarinetist A than clarinetist B does. It all goes back to how you use the physical body, especially the oral cavity, you are born with. It’s true that a great mouthpiece can go a long way to changing our sound for the better (or for the worse as I’ve learned the hard way), but now you know why the mouthpiece alone can’t make you sound like someone else.

What WILL make you sound better is a combination of good equipment (which you can control), your work and time spent developing your embouchure (which you can control), and your very own unique, born-this-way oral cavity (which you cannot control). When you are mouthpiece shopping, enjoy finding one that makes YOU sing.

And this is actually great news. Because do you really want to sound like a carbon copy of Anthony McGill? (Don’t think too long about that - he IS amazing). Seriously, it’s no fun to spend your clarinetlife trying to mimic someone else. Isn’t it more fun to listen around, find who makes a sound on the barkystick that you love, and try to have elements of that loveliness in your own sound. Emphasis on Your Own Sound. That wonderful noise that You - And Only You - can get on the clarinet because of your lucky oral cavity genetics? Rejoice in your difference, in your uniqueness. Be happy that everyone who pops on your same mouthpiece will still sound like themselves, and you will happily still sound like yourself. Turn your efforts to sounding like the best YOU, not a clone of Dr. Amazingclarinetist. Honestly dahling, I’d rather hear the one and only you.

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