How to avoid popped attacks on clarinet

Imagine this – you’re standing on stage, the lights are dimmed, and you’re ready to play your first entrance when…

A sharp spike in the sound ruins the moment you’ve been practicing!

Popped attacks are unfortunately very common on the clarinet. These can be frustrating, but these can be avoided with these tips.

First up, what causes popped attacks?

  • A change in the embouchure
  • Harsh articulation
  • Spike in the air speed or quantity
  • Excess tension or pressure

These are the most common causes of popped attacks, but keep in mind that there might be other factors which can contribute to popped attacks on the clarinet.

Now that we know some causes of popped attacks, here are some tips to avoid popped attacks on clarinet:

  • Set your embouchure before playing. One of the most common causes of popped or imperfect attacks is trying to simultaneously set your embouchure and play at the same time. Having an unsteady embouchure or movement of the embouchure leads to a higher likelihood of popped attacks, so make sure you set your embouchure and then play for smooth, clean attacks.
  • Audit your air. Make sure you are using steady, controlled air (both in quantity and velocity). Any spikes in the air can contribute to popped attacks on the clarinet.
  • Refine your articulation. Using too much pressure of the tongue against the reed can lead to popped attacks, as this will translate into harsh, heavy sounds. Read more about how to make your articulation lighter, as well as my Complete Guide to Clarinet Articulation.
  • Avoid embouchure movement. Any change in the embouchure can lead to a change in the air, which can lead to popped attacks. (Embouchure movement is especially common when playing articulated passages.) I suggest practicing in front of a mirror to ensure your embouchure stays steady and stable as you play.

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