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Should clarinetists use a neck strap?

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!

8 Comments

  • Ashley Green

    This is such an important topic! I used a neck strap for a couple years after I had healed from a playing injury. I actually used a non-elastic harness called the jazzlab sax holder! I really liked it because it alleviated all the weight from my thumb. I tried the elastic neck straps first but found them to be uncomfortable because I was so weak from not physically playing. With the elastic neck straps, I would just end up sitting and putting the bell on my knees anyways. With the jazz lab harness I could at least the stand up while playing! I eventually moved to the elastic neck straps little-by-little while I got my strength back, and then I moved slowly to playing without one. It took years!

    I always recommend to my beginning students to use neckstraps, especially if they’re very enthusiastic practices. And also if a student needs to play a lot suddenly, I will always recommend they wear one! It’s so important to take care of our bodies.

    Anways, great post. Thanks for sharing!
    -Ashley Green
    ashleyclarinet.com

    • jennyclarinet

      Hi Ashley, thank you for your comment! I’ve never tried the jazzlab sax holder, but it sounds like it helped you a lot during your musical journey. I’m glad to hear that you encourage enthusiastic practicers to use neck straps – more music, less pain!

  • Robert Monie

    My early teachers had the notion that only “amateurs and doublers” used neckstraps. “Real” clarinetists didn’t. Thankfully experience has taught me to drop that nonsensical prejudice for at least 2 reasons: 1) Amateurs and doublers can be excellent clarinetists, and 2) I saw Sabine Meyer play the Mozart Concerto using a neckstrap and Antony McGill, also playing the Mozart with one; then I saw Ricardo Morales use one on several occasions, and the Swedish virtuoso Emil Jonason did the Lindberg Concerto with his clarinet anchored safely to a neckstrap. Well, if these players aren’t “real clarinetists” then I don’t know who is. Maybe if anybody needs to be shamed, it’s the people who, for no good reason, rail against using neckstraps . It should be left up to the individual player whether to use one or not.

    • jennyclarinet

      I’m so glad to hear that you realize that neck straps and talent are not related at all! You’ve listed some incredible players, and we must continue to stop the neck strap shaming!

  • Bonnie Davis

    I have arthritis in my hands and fingers. About 20 years ago I started using a neck strap sporadically, to see if it would help. I now use a strap every time I pick up a clarinet to play. Another thing I did that helped was to raise the thumb rest so that my thumb is positioned in the same plane as the finger that covers the first one hole on the lower joint. That takes a lot of pressure off the thumb. But I digress.

    At first, I tried an elastic strap. It made so much sense to me that I gave it a good try before going to another type. I currently use a Bambu strap with the padded leather neckpiece. I’ve been using this one for a couple of years and still like it a lot.

    • jennymaclay

      Thank you for sharing your story! It sounds like you found a great neck strap to help solve your problems, and raising the thumb rest was a great idea. It sounds like you’ve made some great choices to help you along your clarinet journey!

  • Rodney Emmer

    I have spinal arthritis and my cervical intra vertebral discs are very worn so I opted for the BG yoke brace which puts the weight more on the shoulders than the neck and it really works for me. My neck doesn’t suffer because of the clarinet and supporting strap and the weight of the clarinet concentrated on my thumb is no longer a problem. I’m just coming to the end of my excellent beginners course with Michelle Anderson and as a 74 year old, I’m delighted to report that my breathing has improved so much that my life-long cough has diminished considerably and my mind has been actively occupied with learning. Playing clarinet is good for my health!

    • jennyclarinet

      I’m glad to hear that you’ve found equipment that lets you play with ease. Congrats on completing Michelle’s beginners course! That’s wonderful that your breathing has improved, and I agree – playing clarinet is definitely good for one’s health!

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