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Symphonic Type Embouchure


Staff member
Steve Sklar made mention in another post about the "symphonic type embouchure". As someone who is primarily a saxophonist I learned clarinet by sticking it in my mouth and going from there.

Please describe a "symphonic type embouchure" for those of us who have not been classically trained on clarinet.


Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
I'm working on a writeup for this.

I'm known for my fairly short, sweet and to the point replies. But this .. I'll have to actually think about the writeup for it. So give me some time.

I know that many professionals have varying methods of teaching embouchure control. There's probably plenty of writeups, books, chapters of books et all about a clarinet embouchure. I'm going to try and touch on all the issues that affect the embouchure which not only is the face, mouth and lips but also in regards to understanding a mouthpiece and your RH finger, yes the one that holds up the clarinet.

I was taught this "correct" (to use a term loosely) clarinet embouchure back in 1980 by a professional player. By that time I had already been playing the sax for 4 years. No one in college ever pointed out it was wrong other than the fact I use too much lower lip .. but we'll get into that in the writeup. I have also learned over the years that you have to tweak your embouchure based on mouthpiece design.

We can explore the "doublers' embouchure and double lip embouchure later too.


Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
How does one teach the appropriate Clarinet embouchure ?

There are varying methods out there and I’m sure much better descriptive than mine. I was taught many years ago back when I was about 14 years old by a professional player (thanks to my Band Director for getting me free lessons). I haven’t changed much since other than to vary the amount of mouthpiece that I used based on the mouthpiece design and other items that I believe improved my ability.

The entire objective we are striving for is to be able to play pianissimo staccatos, high notes and low notes all with appropriate ease.

But first, let’s look at what all impacts the Embouchure and cover each area appropriately.

Your Right hand thumb

Say What?

Yes, your right hand thumb is an important part to your embouchure.

How So ?

Think about it this way, if you were to not use your right hand thumb on the thumb rest then it would be up to your lower lip, for the most part, to keep the instrument up in your mouth. We want to eliminate the fact that your lower lip has to push the mouthpiece up to your top teeth (this is biting). With this we use your right thumb and the thumbrest to push the mouthpiece firmly to your top teeth. No matter which embouchure you use your right thumb is critical in assisting yourself in a good embouchure.

I?ve also found that a neckstrap can do wonders here to relieve any pain in your right thumb. I use a simple Hyman strap with a 1 inch thick rubber O-ring around the hook, then around the thumbrest closest to the body. This allows quick instrument changes and even quick clarinet changes.

Mouthpiece patches also help keep your teeth in one position on the mouthpiece. Try one, you may like them. They come in thin, medium and thick varieties.

Embouchure Attributes
So let’s move on to more of the embouchure itself.

The key objectives are:
[1] The corners of the embouchure are pulled back ? similar to a smile
[2] The center of your embouchure is firm to support the reed. Keep in mind, we do not want any pinching or biting (check your right thumb !)
[3] A good air stream supported by your diaphragm.

To do this we look at:

Your Lips and Jaw
First, your jaw should never be used to clamp up the mouthpiece up your top teeth ? use your right thumb for that.

Your lower lip should just lightly cover your teeth. Now I happen to have larger lips and I roll my lip completely over my teeth. But a ?proper? embouchure has your lip slightly over the teeth. And to accommodate this is where your tense your chin area. This is the ?pointed chin? many players hear about.

Your chin muscles need to be tensed up and flat against your chin. This all helps in your lower lip and helps control the reed.

Upper Teeth
The most important aspect of this is that the upper teeth should never bite down. This will put undue stress on your lower lip embouchure and actually push the clarinet down a bit pushing against your thumb. Your thumb should push the clarinet up to your upper teeth.

A toothpatch actually really helps in this area. They come in thin, medium and thick thicknesses. The toothpatch also allows your teeth not to slide around as it possibly could without one.


This argument seems to vary between players and teachers. All I can say is vary your tongue position while playing long tones (or just blowing air out of your mouth) and find out for yourself if it helps your tone.

The tongue position should be fairly high and back in your oral cavity. Practice moving your tongue around while just blowing air (no clarinet needed). You will want the tongue up against your teeth then pull it slowly back until the sides of your tongue touch both the insides of your back teeth. Notice how the sound of the air coming out of your mouth changes.

The high and back tongue position apparently helps in a hollow tone (famed my R-13 players) but enough tonal projection to carry in a large auditorium.

Mouthpiece, Reed and Embochure

Not all mouthpieces are created equal.

They can vary by tip opening, facing length (the length of the curve in which the reed vibrates), material, tip and side rail thickness .. you name it.

With Mouthpieces I try to show that as the facing length changes so too should the position of your lower lip. Use a playing card or piece of paper to help determine where you lower lip should go.

As to how it affects the tone. Start out by using as little mouthpiece as possible. Listen carefully to the tone. Then add more mouthpiece, and more and compare the tone of each location. Mouthpieces were design with certain attributes and we need to play the mouthpiece in the way it was designed. Of course, we may not like that, so we have the option of change mouthpieces. But we should always play the mouthpiece with the correct embouchure location.

The lower lip allows control over the reed and allows up to shape the tone. But the lower lip should never clamp the reed. Proper control will allow the reed to vibrate over the full mouthpiece facing curve. With the proper mouthpiece lower embouchure location you basically are allowing the reed to be free to vibrate at the optimal compromise of the embouchure firmness. Of course, reeds vary in cut too so reeds do have an impact.

Other Information
In some old technique books they teach that with the perfect embouchure you should be able to play just your mouthpiece and get an altissimo D.

Couple other items:
Never puff your cheeks
The angle of the Clarinet should be around 30-45 degrees
Use a Mirror to visually look at your embouchure
Airstream practice ? try to blow a nice thin intense airsteam onto your angled hand


Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
interesting observation.
I was reading (should have done that before my writeup) where you actually "push" forward your lower jaw to support the reed. (thus giving it a lower position on the mpc, like just taking in more mpc). I've never really noticed this before but it seems more optimal.

It was teeth near the top of the mpc, and push the jaw out. interesting, this seems to increase the oral cavity at the base of your throat too, and supposedly affects tone a tad. Of course, I haven't really experimented with this yet but it's interesting .... though just practicing it sans clarinet it makes my jaw hurt.
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Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
You probably have read me mentioning that a soft reed plays flatter. But why, well, I think I found a nice explanation of that.


from the above link said:
The effect of reed hardness
In the preceding section we have ignored the compliance of the reed, discussed above. This acts in parallel with the bore, and its impedance decreases at high frequency, so its effect is to reduce the rise in impedance with frequency: softer reeds give lower overall impedance at high frequency. Further, the very high resonances are weaker and occur at lower frequency when you use a soft reed.

On this figure, the single dots are the experimentally measured impedance spectrum for E3, with a value of the compliance corresponding to a hard reed. The continuous line (actually the experimental points joined together) shows the spectrum for a soft reed. At low frequencies, there is not much difference, but you can already see a slight difference in frequency: the hard reed plays sharper, all else equal. As you go to higher frequencies, you see that the soft reed gives lower peaks. Lower peaks are harder to play, so the hard reed makes it easier to play high notes. (Unfortunately, a hard reed also makes it easier to play squeaks.)

To understand more about the detailed shape of these impedance curves, see the discussion of the experimental results for E3.
in other words, a soft reed (of the same make and brand) play flatter.

of course there are some things that can be done with mpcs to make them play sharper in certain ranges. Normally student mpcs are designed this way to accomodate softer reeds. Some professional mpcs also take on these attributes .. but like with anything else there is always give and take on other attributes.


Tom Heimer
I use a strap on my clarinet at rehearsals (not at concerts--looks funny???).
I am trained classically. I have played a little alto sax over the decades and use the same embouchure (as so thoroughly explained above).
Then again, I am not a professional sax player.


Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
To compliment the excellent write up done by Steve Sklar, I would like to share one of the clearest and easiest ways to describe and teach the clarinet and saxophone embouchure I learned from Dr. Ray Smith saxophone and jazz instructor at BYU.

The "EE" muscles pull out, and the "OO" muscles push in at the same time making a tug-o-war.

On the clarinet the "tug-o-war" stays a tie. On the saxophone the "OO's" prevail, but the "EE's" still keep pulling. This produces a flat chin on the clarinet, and a slightly rounded chin on the saxophone.
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