Five Essentials for the Beginning Clarinetist

For the beginning clarinetist, gaining technical independence is a collective journey of determination, hard work, and consistent practice. These five essentials can help any developing clarinetist or music educator understand the foundations of clarinet pedagogy.

Use these tips as a basis for teaching, but note that they are simply a brief 'checklist' for covering the basics. For any questions relating to these tips, feel free to send me a message. Happy practicing!



The formation of the embouchure is critical in the development of a beautiful clarinet tone and technique. Consistent care should be taken to ensure that the following aspects of embouchure formation are addressed and practiced each day.


  • The upper teeth are placed firmly on the mouthpiece.

  • The lower teeth are covered by a small amount of the lower lip.


  • The lips should be drawn around the mouthpiece in much the same way that a drawstring tightens a duffel bag.

  • Try to avoid independent pressure from either the upper or lower lips. Instead, the pressure should be distributed evenly around the mouth.


  • The cheeks should be pulled in toward the corners of the mouth.

  • Puffed cheeks will result in a flat and unfocused sound, while overly stretched and tense cheeks will result in a constricted and pinched tone quality.


  • The chin should be pulled straight down and pointed toward the floor. It should be firm, but not overly tight or tense.

  • If this is difficult to communicate to your student, this step can be accomplished the same way as blowing air into a coke bottle or drinking through a straw.



The developing clarinetist must spend considerable time and energy working to develop mature breath support.


  • The head, neck, shoulders, chest, and arms should remain relaxed at all times during the inhalation and exhalation process:


  • Feel your stomach expand outward when you inhale and contract inward when you exhale.

Warm Air

  • Create a warm, focused air when you blow through the instrument. Avoid shallow, huffing gasps of breath.


  • Work to use all your air before you take your next breath.

  • Doing so will increase your capacity and help you create longer, more expressive phrases during performance situations with time.



  • The hands should be placed on the instrument in a very relaxed manner.

  • Any tension due to exaggerated finger arching, finger flattening, or improper angle of the instrument will result in diminished finger technique.

  • Practice creating a relaxed hand position by relaxing your arms at your side. Next, left your hand and create a relaxed letter “C” with your hand, making sure that the fingers are relaxed and curved.



Consistent and careful daily practice is the single most important ingredient to becoming a fine clarinetist. Practice sessions should include the following:

Tone and Breathing Exercises

  • This includes long tones, range exercises, volume (dynamics) exercises, and work with a tuner for pitch accuracy.

Technical Facility Exercises

  • Major and minor scales, thirds, chromatics, arpeggios, and more as desired.

  • Single and multiple articulation studies should be practiced for precision, accuracy, and speed. Quality over quantity, always!

Musicality and Expressiveness

  • Etudes, exercises, and solo literature.



Maintenance of your equipment is a must in order to ensure peak performance.


  • Always swab the instrument after you complete a practice session. During long rehearsals it may be necessary to swab frequently, especially if the room is cold.


  • Don't depend on only one reed!

  • Always have at least four reeds ready to go at any one time.

  • Also, make sure you store your reeds in the proper manner.


  • Mouthpieces come in a variety of sizes and styles.

  • Work with your teacher to find a mouthpiece that offers the following: warm tone quality, flexibility in all ranges, accurate intonation, and ease of articulation.

  • Additionally, the mouthpiece should be reed friendly.

  • Never play on reeds that do not work well with your mouthpiece! Harder reeds do not equate to a higher level of performance!


  • Make sure your case is in good condition.

  • Many instrument repairs can be traced to worn out cases.