One of the most common complaints I hear from clarinetists is that they wish they had a better sound.
Our sound (aka tone) is our musical voice, so it’s important to work to develop a sound which captures exactly what we want to share with your audience.
The subject of clarinet tone is enough to fill its own book (several, perhaps), but I’ll share a few suggestions to help get your started on ways you can improve your clarinet tone:
- Have a clearly defined sound concept. While it can be difficult to describe clarinet tone (here are 50 adjectives to help you get started), you should have an idea of what your ideal sound would be. To determine this, listen regularly to clarinetists from around the world in a variety of styles and genres. Having an idea of sounds you like is a key step to finding the path to creating your own unique sound.
- Embrace long tones. Spoiler alert – it will be nearly impossible to improve your clarinet tone without actually playing exercises designed to focus on clarinet tone…aka long tones. Long tones should become a daily part of your practice routine (ideally the first part of your warm-up routine), and there are infinite long tones available. I’ve created several custom-designed long tones based on registers, repertoire, and more to help improve your tone. If you’re new to long tones, I encourage you to read my complete guide to long tones. If you’re already familiar with long tones, here are some ways you can level up your long tones to maximize your clarinet tone improvement potential.
- Check your air. Your sound directly mirrors your air. For example, if you notice dips in your sound, that means there are dips in your air. (I talk more about this here.) Make sure you are using fast, focused air when playing clarinet. It might feel difficult if you are just beginning clarinet, but developing your air speed and quantity will come with time and consistent practice. I encourage students to hold their hand in front of their mouth and blow against it as if they were playing clarinet. If the air feels warm, it’s too slow and will likely not produce your best clarinet sound. You should aim for fast, cold air, as if you are blowing out all the candles on a birthday cake.
- Evaluate your embouchure. Embouchure is another topic that merits its own book (or series), but for the purposes of this blog post, you should check your embouchure to see if there are any areas for improvement. Common issues I see are puffed cheeks (which prevent proper air usage), playing with too much or too little of the mouthpiece in the mouth (experiment with a teacher to see which produces the best sound), and biting or squeezing the mouthpiece, which produces a thin sound. As I mentioned, developing an embouchure is an extensive subject, so work with a trusted teacher, friend, or colleague to see how your embouchure is helping (or hurting) your sound.
- Review your posture. Make sure that you are playing with good posture. Pay careful attention that your chin is not dropping towards your chest, which can obstruct the air flow. The bottom of your chin should remain parallel to the ground to maximize the air flow into the clarinet.
- Consider your equipment. Playing on high-quality equipment will definitely make a difference in your sound. Try different mouthpieces, reeds, ligatures, barrels, and clarinets to see which help you achieve your ideal sound. (Please note: Selecting the right equipment does help produce a better sound, but even the best equipment is no substitute for consistent long tone work and sound-building exercises.)
- Be patient. Learning clarinet is a marathon, and building better tone takes weeks, months, and years of consistent practice. You might not notice drastic improvement from day to day, but by incorporating tone-building exercises into your practice routine, your efforts will be rewarded in the long run.
One final note – the recommendations above are meant for ways you can improve your overall clarinet tone. If you’d like to improve your tuning, check out my complete guide to clarinet tuning.
I hope these tips help you to improve your clarinet sound!
Happy practicing! 🎶
This article also appeared on Henri Selmer Paris. If you are looking for more helpful articles, videos, and other resources, be sure to check out this website!