10 Quick Tips to Help Band Directors Improve Your Clarinet Section

Band directors are kind of like musical superheroes – they have to maintain a working knowledge of all common (and sometimes not-so-common) band instruments. Not only this, but they have to share it in an easy-to-understand format with multiple students every day. Let’s hear it for band directors!

Although I’ve never been a band director, I’ve worked in hundreds of band classes around North America, specifically with woodwind and clarinet sections.

I’d like to share a few quick tips with big payoffs to all the band directors out there to share with your clarinet sections:

  • Check reed placement. If the reed is too high up (or too low down), it will be difficult to produce a sound. In general, the tip of the reed should be equal with the tip of the mouthpiece.
  • Check ligature placement. Many students place their ligatures too high up, which prevents the reed from vibrating to its fullest. (Not to mention that it’s more difficult to stay in place.) Teach your clarinet students to keep the ligature between the “reed lines” – the bottom of the reed and the filed/unfiled cut (the straight line or U shape).
  • Place the ligature on the mouthpiece before the reed. This is one of my favorite quick tips which will save you and your students $$$ in chipped reeds. Teach your clarinets to always put the lig on before the reed – this prevents chipped reeds from ligature collisions.
  • Incessant squeaking when crossing the break? Check the right hand ring finger. This is a common culprit for crossing the break squeaks. As the largest tone hole on the clarinet, it can be difficult for younger students with smaller hands to completely cover this unless they are aware of the issue, so be sure to check this finger to save you and your students a few squeaks.
  • Left hand thumb at 2 o’clock. When crossing the break, another common issue is the left-hand thumb position. Have your students angle this thumb at 2 o’clock, which allows them to simultaneously cover the thumb hole while hitting the register key.
  • Make sure their chin is parallel to the ground. Poor chin position results in poor air flow, so check periodically to make sure your clarinetists aren’t playing with their chins drooped towards their chest (nor are they playing with their clarinet high in the air. Fun tip: Hang a poster in your classroom just above eye level to encourage clarinets to keep their chins up. The more silly/quirky, all the better to keep eyes (and chins) up.
  • Call out peekaboo pinky fingers. When students rest their left and right pinky fingers behind the clarinet while not in use, I call this peekaboo pinky fingers. Not only is this improper hand position, but it also slows down technical developments.

And here are a few bonus clarinet care tips to help avoid accidents and broken clarinets:

  • Always place your clarinet on a peg when not holding it. I’ve seen too many clarinets broken because they were left on chairs, stands, and left standing on the floor – minus a peg! This quick fix will save many clarinets and lower clarinet repair bills.
  • Make sure the case isn’t upside down before opening it. Simple, but easy to overlook. Especially when students first begin playing their instrument, have them look for identifying marks to ensure they’re not opening the case upside down, which can lead to fallen and broken instruments. (Pro tip: Have your students put their favorite sticker(s) on the top side of the case and check for that before opening.)
  • Make sure the swab is unfurled before swabbing. Another common – but easily avoidable – clarinet emergency is getting the swab stuck in the instrument. This is usually caused when the swab is balled up as it goes into the instrument. Teach your students to unfurl the swab to decrease the chance of having it get stuck. (Pro tip: If a swab does get stuck in the clarinet, never try to yank it out. Twist the swab to decrease its size until it can come out. If this doesn’t work, take it to a qualified repair tech for assistance.)

Here are a few other articles I’ve written which you might enjoy:

Leave a comment below with your best clarinet section tips!

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