Chances are, if you’re a clarinetist (especially one who watches videos of other clarinetists on YouTube or social media), you’ve probably seen comments regarding someone’s decision whether or not to use a neck strap.
So, should clarinetists be using neck straps? Are neck straps a sign of weakness (as I’ve seen many comments suggesting)?
Spoiler alert: Each clarinetist gets to form their personal opinion about whether or not they choose to use a neck strap.
Here are a few things to consider before making (or re-evaluating) your choice:
- Have you ever experienced upper extremity pain while practicing? Many clarinetists have chosen to use a neck strap to alleviate pain resulting from their practice sessions. Although the clarinet is not very heavy, any amount of weight will take its toll after extended use over days, weeks, months, and years. Neck straps are a wonderful way to remove this weight from the hands, wrists, and arms, and many clarinetists feel it has helped repetitive strain injuries. (Note: If you are suffering from repetitive strain injuries, you should consult a medical professional to explore appropriate ways to help your pain.)
- Are you trying to increase the duration of your practice routine? If so, using a neck strap might help since it takes away some of the weight and tension on the hands, allowing for longer physical endurance. (Sadly, neck straps will not improve embouchure endurance.) If you’re looking for ways to increase endurance, you can also check out my article on this subject here.
- If you are currently using a neck strap, make sure that it is adjustable. If you are currently using a non-adjustable neck strap, this could result in neck discomfort, poor posture, and ineffective release of tension. Having an elastic neck strap is important because it will help compensate for normal body movement while playing. Make sure that you always bring the clarinet to you and that you are not having to move towards the clarinet. Using an adjustable neck strap will help find the best position for each person’s unique setup and positioning.
If you decide to use a neck strap for the first time, make sure that you spend some time practicing in front of a mirror so you can make sure that you don’t develop any adverse posture habits, such as bringing the neck forward, lowering or raising the chin, or hunching the shoulders.
Most importantly: never neck strap shame others! There seems to be a stigma that clarinetists who use neck straps aren’t at the same level as their non-neck strap counterparts, and this is simply not true. Choosing clarinet equipment, from reeds to mouthpieces to neck straps, is highly personal, so you should remove any preconceived notions you have about people using (or not using) certain equipment.
So, do you use a neck strap? Why or why not? If you use a neck strap, have you noticed a difference in your playing since adding a neck strap? Leave a comment below and let me know!