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A Cleaner attack

I have been playing clarinet for our years now and I've learned Artie Shaw's Clarinet Concerto at this point, but I always had this problem. I could never cleanly tongue. It actually sounds so repulsive to tongue that I actually have defaulted to using my lip, which might not sound as good as it could be but, managed to be somehow better than all the other students which have been playing since elementary (I started my first year of high-school, this is my final year). I want to change my ways and so I searched around and I found no assistance for my particular problem. Then I read this guide on clarinet basics that mentioned how to start notes. It had 3 listed forms "Tah", "Dah", and one that I've never seen before "Hah". I was actually surprised that sliding into a note had it's own articulation. So I tried it with one note and It sounded better than my tonguing. Appalled I tried it again, this time I tried to play an exercise counted "1-y-an-da, 2- - - , 3 -y-an-da, 4 - - -, 1yanda, 2yanda, 3yanda, 4 - - -". I noticed that the sixteenth notes sounded familiar. Then I went back to tonguing the excercise and I realized the problem, or at least a hint. The only difference between tonguing and using only air, is tonguing has a definite start. Even I'm lightly tonguing a note that I'm holding out, it sounds like I'm just using a focused huff of air. My tongue is flat for the tip. and it is in fact very thick. When I stick out my tongue, it hardly can go over my slightly bigger than average bottom lip. I really hope someone can give me some sort of advice.


Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
This is the type of playing issue that needs to be worked on one on one with a good clarinet instructor. It sounds as if there are some bad habits that need to be unlearned before the proper way to tongue cleanly can be established.


Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
A clarinet teacher can do wonders.

But if you are critical of yourself, and record and review yourself then there are things you can do. Though a teacher will get you there quicker and more accurately.

practice tonguing a scale (or half steps) but each note a triplet (I use triplets) or something you are comfortable with in regards to speed.
review the recording.

Then practice being lighter on the tonguing. Try to just use the tip of your tongue and ever so slightly.
Keep reviewing the recording - or pay attention. I usually close my eyes when I do tonal / technical issues like this.
keep repeating trying to improve how light you can possibly tongue

Remember all you have to do is stop the reed for an instant from vibrating. It doesn't require much at all to accomplish that, and that is what you are tying to do being as light as possible touching the reed.

Pay attention to how much saliva is on the tip of your tongue (and in your mouth etc) as that can impact how it sounds too.

Then practice this doing stacatto and legato, with heavier and lighter attacks, etc.
Pay attention to how your air flow is, how your stomach/air support reacts to it. Add more air support and review (but you need to know what proper air support is).

fyi, you can practice these techniques without your instrument just by tongueing on the back of your teeth anytime during the day and humming scales or something.

Many beginners don't correlate air support to tonguing but it can has a dramatic impact. this is where a teacher comes into play. As one cannot learn something accurately without actually knowing how to properly do it based on experience.

here is a simple, beginning article ==> http://www.the-clarinets.net/english/clarinet-how-to-play.html

Here is an article which may shed some more light on technical aspects of tongue position, etc. You may learn a lot more from this => https://www.midwestclinic.org/user_files_1/pdfs/clinicianmaterials/2001/west.pdf

by the way, I'm confused a bit in your description. But it sounds like you are not taking in enough mouthpiece into your mouth. OR more conversely, you are raising your lower lip (instead of pushing out) to meet the reed. Thus you have a very minimal amount of reed in your mouth, which would make it difficult to tongue and not sound so good.

also review this first ==> http://www.clarinetperfection.com/clmpcTypes.htm
I wrote this a long time ago and it may be of some help ==> http://clarinetperfection.com/Embouchure.htm

Embouchure is a critical component in clarinet playing. You may want to take a few lessons in regards to this specifically to get you on the right track.
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