Mouthpieces for Beginners

Prior to writing this article, I did a little web research to see what teachers are recommending for their students.  Unfortunately, the most common reference to student mouthpieces that I found can be summarized as “Try to eliminate all stock mouthpieces. Encourage quality student mouthpieces”.  Thanks for narrowing it down so-called experts . . . OK . . . So what constitutes as quality student mouthpiece?

To me, a student mouthpiece must . . .

  • Be comfortable and free blowing: We all know that one of the fastest ways to discourage a kid from playing an instrument is to make him work too hard to get air through the horn.  I use a slight A frame in my JCII mouthpieces that allow for greater ease of blowing but still hold the sound.
  • Allow for slightly heavier reeds: Many student mouthpieces feature a short lay and a fairly open tip which make them great for the soft, orange box reeds but too difficult to play as the student progresses.  I recommend a medium to medium long lay (17 mm – 18 mm) with a medium close tip (1.06ish).  These dimensions allow the student to begin with a “blue” box reed of 2 or 2.5 that will hold the sound while not being too resistant.
  • Provide focused resistance: I teach students to feel the sound in the front of their mouths which requires a mouthpiece to offer enough “positive” resistance at the tip for the student to feel secure.  Even longer faced mouthpieces that can be used with heavy reeds, in my mind, are too flexible for the beginner.  I prefer to allow students the flexibility once they have a grasp of a good sound/air relationship.
  • Be affordable: Convincing a parent to swap out the “perfectly good” mouthpiece that came in the rental or new clarinet he just purchased can be a challenge. All the better if it is not overly expensive.  The tipping point for most parents in my area is $35.

So what fits the bill?  Below are mouthpieces that I believe match up well with what I look for for my students.  Even though I make my own, I feel comfortable when a new student comes to me with any of the below.

Wood Clarinet Care and Preservation

Break-In Procedure
Breaking in your new clarinet can be the most important step you take in the prevention of developing wood problems over the life of your instrument. I recommend following the below procedure to ensure the best chance of a “slow change” that your clarinet will need to maintain optimum performance and lesson the chances of checking or cracks.

1. Play the instrument for only 5 minutes at a time for the first week.  You can do this several times in a day but be sure to allow the wood to rest and air dry in between playings.
2. After the first week, add a minute of play time a  day to each session until you reach about an hour .

General Care & Maintenance
1. Always swab to remove excess moisture from the bore of your clarinet.  I recommend a microfiber swab as they are lint free and easy on the wood.
2. Avoid extreme and rapid changes in temperature. The optimal temperature for a wood clarinet is 65° to 75°. In general, always allow the clarinet to return to room temperature before playing.
3. Maintain a consistent relative humidity in between playing sessions. The ideal humidity for wood clarinets is 45% to 55%. There are several methods for this ranging from in room humidifiers to in case systems.
4. Occasionally, wipe down the keys after playing with a micro-fiber or other lint free cloth. This removes the acids and oils left on the keys by your fingers and will help prevent premature wear or tarnishing.
5. If you are to store your clarinet for a long period without playing it, place your case on end so the tubes stand vertically.  This will help prevent the wood from settling into the bore which will cause the shape to become elliptical as opposed to cylindrical.