Getting started on a new instrument can be a daunting task. While the clarinet is a very versatile and generally beginner friendly instrument, there are many aspects that can be difficult for those that have not played a woodwind instrument before. Here are a few tips that should help you improve faster if you are about to start or have recently started learning the clarinet.
Choosing an Instrument
It is very important to select the right type of instrument for what you intend to use it for. Clarinets can vary wildly in terms of the materials used, the sensitivity of the keys, and many other factors. Getting clarinet comparison advice from a teacher or other trusted source is always a good idea when purchasing music equipment.
Some factors that may influence the clarinet you buy include whether you will be playing mostly indoors or outdoors, how long you plan on using the instrument, and of course your price range.
The two main types of clarinet are those made of wood and those made of plastic. Plastic clarinets are generally more resistant to damage and weather conditions, and will last a reasonably long time even if not maintained properly. Plastic clarinets are great for those who will be frequently playing outside in a variety of climates, such as in a marching band. Wood clarinets require greater care and are easily damaged by things such as changes in humidity.
Wood clarinets are generally considered to have a better tone quality than their plastic counterparts, but are more expensive. However, beginners likely will not notice much of a difference between the two. Aspiring clarinetists should weigh the advantages and disadvantages of several clarinet models before making a decision of which they are going to learn on.
There are several popular brands of reeds on the market. While it may be tempting to go for the cheapest option, this may end up impeding the speed of progress. A substantial amount of the sound of your instrument depends on the hardness and quality of the reed. Therefore, it is important to compare several brands from a reliable source before making a decision.
Many people start with Rico brand reeds since they are widely available and affordable. Unfortunately, these tend to be less durable and require frequent replacement. They also tend to have less consistency between different reeds in the same box when compared to other brands.
Vandoren reeds are a significant step up in price from Rico reeds, but the increase in quality and consistency is certainly noticeable. Vandoren reeds are individually packaged in their own wrappers, ensuring that they maintain their factory-fresh quality right until you need to use them.
The hardness of the reed is critical, especially when first starting. Reeds are usually rated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the softest and 5 being the hardest. New players should begin with reeds no higher than a hardness of 2. Anything higher than that will likely cause a novice to have trouble producing any sound at all.
Reeds require proper care in order to play their best and last as long as possible. The cost of replacing reeds frequently can add up rapidly, and so it is important for newer players to get into the habit of taking care of them early on.
Reeds should always be wet prior to putting them on the instrument. The best way of doing this is to place the reed on your tongue for a minute or two prior to playing to allow your saliva to soften it. Alternatively, you can place the reed in a glass of water for a few minutes. This ensures that it is as flexible as possible and vibrates easily, so that it is easier to maintain good tone quality.
Reeds should also never be left attached to the instrument when done playing. Many new players leave the reed and ligature attached to the mouthpiece when putting the clarinet away after a practice session, thinking that it will save time the next time it is set up. Will this may be the case, this does more harm than good over time. This shortens the life of the reed by leaving it susceptible to both physical and environmental damage. Once a reed is done being used, it should be immediately placed back in its original casing.
Proper Posture and Embouchure
One of the easiest ways to slow your progress on the clarinet is to start practicing with incorrect posture and embouchure. For those not familiar, embouchure refers to the way the players mouth is situated on the mouthpiece. Getting these two things right from the beginning are very important for advancing on the clarinet.
As far as posture is concerned, the player should sit on the edge of a sturdy chair with their back straight. The clarinet should be held at 45 degree angle away from the body. Making these things into habits will dramatically improve tone quality and projection, ensuring that your notes always sound confident and full.
The embouchure is a bit more difficult to get right. The top teeth should rest directly on the mouthpiece, while the bottom lip curls over the bottom teeth and comes in contact with the reed. The bottom teeth should never touch the reed. The lips should create an airtight seal around the entire mouthpiece. The corners of the mouth should be kept tight to prevent excess air from escaping.
It can be quite difficult to correct embouchure and posture on your own, and so it is highly advisable to have a professional instructor monitor you to ensure proper form from the beginning. While the internet is a great learning resource, it does not beat the customized guidance that can be obtained from a personal teacher.