What does voicing mean to clarinetists?

“Voicing” is one of those words that clarinetists seem to enjoy using, and we often blame this as a culprit for poor response, intonation, or tone on the instrument. This is an important concept for clarinetists to understand, but it can be difficult since there can be some ambiguity surrounding this term.

Part of the difficulty in defining this is that it holds different meanings for different musicians. Even though I think we all share a vague generalized definition, the details are in the nuances. This is why it’s important to clarify your definition when you are teaching students or discussing it with other clarinetists.

Here is how I define voicing:

To me, voicing is the shaping of the oral cavity (your embouchure and the area inside the mouth) in preparation to play a note or passage. When describing voicing to my students, I have them put their clarinet down and imagine they are about to play a low note. I have them describe the shape and position of their oral cavity (tongue position and openness of the throat), then I have them repeat the exercise imagining they are playing a middle note and then a higher note. Most clarinetists, even young students and beginners, recognize that the oral cavity will be different for these different registers. This difference is what I refer to as voicing.

For me, voicing also includes the mental preparation to play a note or passage, i.e. hearing the note in your head before beginning. Although this is not what many would include in their definition of voicing, I feel it is an important strategy to help clarinetists create a beautiful attack and prevent squeaks and popped notes.

What does voicing mean to you? I’m always interested in hearing how other wind players describe voicing and how they teach it to others, so please feel free to leave a comment with your explanation below!

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