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  • Writer's pictureQueen Reed

The ONLY Embouchure Warm-up You'll Ever Need.

The ONLY Embouchure Warm-up You'll Ever Need.

Here it is. This is it. You don’t need any other embouchure warm-up if you use this one. It’ll last your whole barkystick life. Seriously. It has everything - low notes, high notes, dynamics, tonguing, and oh yes, long tones.

I’ll tell you a little secret. I despise long tones. I don't like to see them, do them, hear other people do them, and I certainly don’t like to start my practice day with them. Long tones make me want to scream, or dive into a tub of ice-cream or a bottle of something I shouldn’t be drinking at 10am. But this little embouchure warm-up sneaks long tones in, all rogue-like. You never see them coming, and then slash-n-dash, you realize you’ve been doing long-tones.

This exercise is a bit like lifting weights -- you cannot go to the heftiest part of it until you’ve cleared the easier parts. If you can’t lift 20 pounds, how are you going to lift 100 pounds? So, be good to your embouchure muscles and do this warm-up in stages over time, and make sure you’re being honest with yourself about whether you are actually doing well on each stage before moving on. Each stage provides ample room for individualization of dynamics, tongued notes, and speed. There's room to grow - even within each stage.

I got this exercise from my undergraduate clarinet professor, Charles Lawson, at Colorado State University. (Go Rammies!) I don’t know where he got it from and it’s probably easily findable with a google search. What I don’t have is a good name for it - I lamely call it “Low-Medium-High.” And I won’t make you wait any more . . .here it is in its full resplendent glory:

Stage 1: Play only the pitches. DO NOT TONGUE. I repeat, Do Not, under any circumstances (especially if that circumstance is that the higher notes won’t come out unless you tongue them), tongue any note except the first one. This is the first weight added to the bar. Full volume. Pick your own tempo. None of your high notes will come out? Read this: When High Notes Won't Come Out.

Stage 2: Same as stage 1. Go slower. Metronome at 60 for the quarter, or slower. Here, you can play around with where to breathe. Never breathe under a slur. To amp your air control, try to go further before your next breath.

Stage 3: Time to add another weight to the bar. Building from Stage 2, add a decrescendo on each top note. Not just any decrescendo. We want one that goes to niente. (marked n, this means down to nothing). As clarinetists, there is no one in the orchestra or band that can play softer than we can. No excuse to not work those embouchure muscles and air control to get down to a whisper that snuffs out like a whiff of smoke. Draaaaaaaaag Ouuuuut that last little bit, right before your sound cuts out entirely. Do this at the beginning of a large rehearsal and the oboe players will be drooling. The brass will be eating their hearts out! Nods of approval tinged with jealousy will domino through the room. Here I am doing Stage 3 this morning:

Stage 4: Add tonguing on the top note, before decrescendo-ing. 4-6 (or more!) repeated pitches. Legato (smooth and connected). All at the same loud volume, then hold that final tongued note out and proceed to decrescendo to niente.

Stage 5: Final stage, the trickiest one: Keep that tonguing in, but decrescendo while you are tonguing. Each note will be softer than the last. Ex. first one = f; second one= mf; third one = mp, etc. . . until you are tonguing your high notes at pppppp. (Cue oboe-drooling). Here I am doing Stage 5 this morning:

This exercise really is the bomb. It teaches your mouth (embouchure, air, voicing) one of the toughest things ever on the clarinet: high, soft, tongued notes! AND it fools you into doing long tones while you’re at it! Pure Love.

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