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!


  • Pam Aruba

    I play a number of wind instruments quite well. Among them horn, tuba, oboe, and English horn. However, with the clarinet I have come to a screeching halt. No matter what I do, I am 20 cents flat; if I “squeeze” hard enough to get up to pitch, I get into squeak range. There seems no fix for this; my tone is quite acceptable, my facility is good, and I am flat. I took up this instrument because the reed problems with double reeds are maddening and I wanted something I could just play with a synthetic reed. Then it turrns out that people are telling me the REASON why I am flat is because i am using synthetic reeds. Is there any fix for this? Right now on a legere 2 3/4, went as high as a legere soprano sax reed 3.50, nothing works. It is a Ridenour Lyrique, bought new, Fobes Debut, Rovner Dark.

    • jennyclarinet

      Hi Pam, there are a few factors which could be contributing to your issue with being flat. Reeds might be affecting this, but it is hard to say without hearing you play to see what else could be causing this issue. I’d suggest experimenting with different equipment (reeds and mouthpieces in particular) to see if this helps improve the issue. Good luck!

  • Ed Link

    Hi Jenny
    A student question rather than a teacher comment. I am sure I am not alone in this. I took up the clarinet in lockdown as an older player (77). I have been playing a year with weekly lessons. I have a good intermediate wooden clarinet (Jupiter JCL 1100). My favourite reed is a Mitchel Lurie 3.0. I often practice with a Vandoren V12 3.5 which is hard work.
    The voicing problem is in the clarion range. The tone sounds somewhat shrill compared to the melow higher notes I hear professionals play. I find I have to pucker my lips to get the greater more directed air flow to sound the notes. My teacher tells me it will come with experience. A blog on improving tone would be very useful.
    Great web site, one of the best on the internet.
    Many Thanks
    Ed Link

    • jennyclarinet

      Hi Ed,
      Congrats on starting the best instrument during lockdown! Do you notice these problems throughout the clarion range, or is it more in the throat tone area? If it’s throat tones, these present their own tuning/timbre issues and I’ve written a few articles with specific advice to combat some of these issues. As you get higher in the clarion and towards the altissimo range, I would recommend increasing the speed of the air flow so the reed can vibrate at the proper speed to produce a rich, brilliant sound. Let me know if this helps, and thank you so much for your support and kind words!

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