Selecting clarinet mouthpieces… difficult task?
It is said that having a good mouthpiece is essential to reach a good tone quality and that having a not-so good clarinet is not so important. In addition to this, I can add that the mouthpiece is the main part of the clarinet; it is where the sound starts in directly connection with our body. Nowadays, there are thousands of clarinet mouthpieces available in the market and hence choosing the right mouthpiece has become a difficult task. When you are a student, having your teacher’s advice is very helpful indeed, but as a teacher, we need to be open-minded and let the students test as much as they can. In my opinion, I understand it may be hard for a teacher to recommend a different mouthpiece from the one they own, but we need to concentrate on the kind of student we’ve got in front of us. Every human being is physically different in terms of constitution of their mouth and teeth, but also there are an enormous variety of embouchures when playing the clarinet. These are the main reasons why mouthpiece dealers keep launching new ones into the market. They experiment slight changes over the three main parts of the mouthpiece (facing, tone chamber and bore) in order to adjust to their customers’ expectations. Therefore, there are four main aspects to check when testing clarinet mouthpieces: INTONATION – Play octaves in long notes. Do they sound narrow/wide? – Play slow – moving scales (listen to each interval). [Practise each of these exercises with different volume levels, in order to make sure it doesn’t affect the pitch.] TONE QUALITY – Is it easy to achieve a full range of tone colours? Try playing different music styles at different volume levels. RESPONSE – Play long notes in low and high ranges at both soft and loud volume levels. – Play a familiar piece with these changes. FREEDOM – Does it feel stuffy / sluggish in long notes? And then of course, we will have to search for the most suitable reeds for our new mouthpiece. Therefore, finding the perfect balance between mouthpiece, reed, embouchure and air support should be the main goal for any clarinettist.