The Secret to Successfully Beginning the Clarinet

It is important to provide students with a good foundation when starting the clarinet. This will ensure student success and enjoyment in the future. Throughout my teaching career I have started countless clarinet students and have learned that beginning students with the barrel and mouthpiece alone is a great way to ensure a good embouchure and tone. Playing with the barrel and mouthpiece eliminates the challenges of holding the clarinet, reading music, and knowing fingerings. Students are able to focus on the fundamental aspects of playing the clarinet: tone, air, and embouchure. Here are few tips for playing on the barrel and mouthpiece:

  • The pitch the barrel and mouthpiece should produce is a concert F#. If students aren’t creating this pitch their embouchure and tongue position are likely not correct. For specifics about the clarinet embouchure read my post Embouchure Tips.
  • Students should hold the barrel and mouthpiece with their fingers so that the bottom of the barrel isn’t covered, this will change the pitch. The angle should also be similar to when playing the full clarinet. I have found that students tend to hold the top two joints out like a cigar rather than down.
  • The sound on the barrel and mouthpiece should be beautiful. I have students describe their sound and compare their tone to mine. It should be smooth, have no wiggles or bumps, be a concert F# pitch, and be consistent,
  • I use the barrel and mouthpiece as a warm-up long after students have mastered their first notes on the clarinet. This exercise helps to set their air, tone, and embouchure before tackling notes and rhythms. When students move to the full clarinet, I remind them that playing the full instrument should be the exact same as with the barrel and mouthpiece. The embouchure, air, and tongue should remain the same.
  • The barrel and mouthpiece is a good way to introduce tonguing as well. I often do repeat-after-me on the barrel and mouthpiece using rhythms in their music.

I have had a lot of success with this method of starting beginning clarinetists. I am never in a rush to stop having students play on the barrel and mouthpiece. At the Saint James Music Academy I would see students three times a week for groups lessons and we begun every lesson with the barrel and mouthpiece for a full year! The gains in tone, control, and speed of future progress make this an invaluable method for beginning clarinetists success.


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