Dr. Christopher Ayer

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Elements of the Clarinet Embouchure

by Dr. Christopher Ayer
Associate Professor of Music
SFA School of Music
[email protected]


There are many points of view regarding the embouchure.  What follows below is probably generally accepted as being true for most everyone.  The student needs to work with their individual teacher closely on this subject.  Practicing in front of a mirror is very useful.  Look for some of the following things when watching your embouchure:

  • The point where the reed breaks away from the mouthpiece should contact the lip on the line where the lip meets the chin.
  • The upper lip comes down "flush" with the upper teeth on the mouthpiece. i.e., the upper lip is never between the upper teeth and the mouthpiece.
  • To some extent, there should be a slight "overbite," perhaps better described as a firm, strong upper lip, securely out on the mouthpiece for high notes as well as low notes.
  • Think about the embouchure as a drawstring purse; the embouchure is like the closing of this purse when the "strings" (below the chin) are pulled.
  • Try not to smile when playing.  When the lips are stretched, the muscles and tissue around the lips are stretched and thin.  This results in a thin sound especially up high.
  • The lip muscles are some of the weakest muscles in the body and must be directed firmly around the mouthpiece, NOT away from it as when you "smile."  If you smile, you are working against yourself.
  • Never let the chin bunch up; keep the bottom lip flat against the bottom teeth.  Sometimes it can be useful to think of "pointing" the chin.
  • Perhaps think of slightly increasing the distance between the teeth. Do not allow the clarinet to be held too far out from the body.
  • Do not allow the clarinet to be held too far out from the body

It is important to realize that all of the above factors lead to one basic point.  That is, the lower lip, jaw and teeth must not squeeze up against the reed in order that the reed (the source of musical sound) be allowed to vibrate freely and give a full resonant sound.


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