Interesting facts about
have always been among the most important things I wanted to learn during my
studies. But who knows about interiors and tone chambers and, who above all
imparts that knowledge?
a clarinet mouthpiece
Well, be that as it may, many kind people gave me one or the other hint and even
thaught me some secrets. This was I learnt the most important things and I am in the
luck position to be able to pass all that useful on to you:
The raw mouthpiece
as well as the property and dimensional accuracy of its interiors and the mouthpiece
face are very important for the intonation and sound quality of the whole instrument.
of the mouthpiece itself has a function and is the basis for a round and uniform sound.
Here it is particularly remarkable that neither the tip of the beak can be altered into a
lasting shape nor does the mouthpiece itself resonate to a high degree while blowing.
Only the clarinet reed is supposed to resonate.
The higher the self-damping of the material, the rounder, darker and fuller the general
impression of the tone. Modern synthetic materials such as ABS or acrylates with different
additives are developed to that effect. Although in general I'd advise rather against
thin-skinned and soft rubber. It is true that you can get very good sound results
with mouthpieces made from fine wood, however, the dimensional accuracy of the
mothpiece facing will not remain in the long run, which rules out this option in general practice.
of the mouthpiece has to match the instrument. If it is too narrow as it often happens with cheap
models, the whole intonation of the instrument becomes too high. However the high region
from c''' on as well as short notes g' to b flat' become too low.
Consequently, the entire sound quality generally tends to be very bright even towards sharp.
The matter is different if the bore is too big: the intonation as a whole is low, the
sound quality is dark but therefore less closed and controlable, and the high register as
well as short notes are rather high. the latter can often be observed with old wooden
The tone chamber
as a linking cave between table and bore has the important function of beeing in seam. Here,
the vibration of the bottom of the reed hits on the own resonance of the sound tube of the
instrument stimulated in each case.
Hence it must, on the one hand, pass the reed vibration
to the air column and permit, on the other hand, sufficient feedback with the air column. In
order to let the air which is blown in and already vibrating stream without difficulty, the
inner walls of this part of the mouthpiece should be formed without larger grooves or flutes. The
transition of the roof surface on the inner side should ideally pass the bore without any
kink or crack. The depth of the tone chamber again influences the sound quality and of course
the intonation; because the length of the entire air column is affected at that place of the
mouthpiece. If the roof is bent stronger and the tone chamber larger, the tone becomes rounder and fuller,
but the intonation again lower. The contrary effect happens with a narrower tone chamber and a
straight or even inwards vaulted buffle: the sound turns out brighter and the intonation has
to be corrected downwards by the appropriate measures.
The mouthpiece facing
is the most essential part of a mouthpiece, the clarinets head and heart. Apart from the fact that the
search for a suitable facing usually takes quite some time in the life of a professional clarinet
player. I first would like to show you the most important features of a face in order to reveal
the biggest defects.
The reed table
should either be plane or have a light hollow ( I'm talking about a few hundreth of a
millimetre here ).
The two legs
should be absolutely identical and without any interruption in their course to the tip as well
as to the table.
The tip rail,
being the last part, should close from the sides and form the final bend of the face. Only if the
bottom of the reed can roll off the table symmetrically on both legs and the mouthpiece can close tightly
at the tip are the blowing conditions really optimal. The whole mouthpiece facing forms in any way a bent
plane and shows no discontinuity or break of any kind in its course.
Now, how to select a clarinet mouthpiece ?
or how do you check the quality of your mouthpiece in practice?
Well with material, bore and tone chamber, it may be better to follow advice from specialists, who
have both proper measuring tools at hand and the required knowledge. In any case, you will be on
the safe side if you choose a clarinet mouthpiece regular in this respects at a price level from about
100,- EUR on. Of course you can always check the quality of the mouthpiece facing yourself.
For this purpose take a small level glass plate of about 120 x 40 x 6 mm, which every glazier will make
you for little money, and put it on your mouthpiece facing. In order to get a better view of the contact
points you can pass your finger over the face once or twice with some cork grease, so that a
wafer-thin film sticks to the surface of mouthpiece table and facing.
The contact points which become visible now should be on both legs above
the table ( contact points at the same height ! ) and the lower end of the reed table.
If you now roll on the mouthpiece on the glass plate towards the tip, the contact points of the legs
at the left and right should move upwards to the same degree. The tip rail should become visible as a
whole only at the end of the legs.
If you put the glass plate on the facing in a way that the tip of your mouthpiece lies approximately in
the middle but the edge of the plate projects at the most 1 mm from the top above the table, then you
can see whether the contact points run neatly and regularly towards the reed table. There, the
contact points turn to one and this is certainly wider and should be visible - like the tip rail
- in one piece. If, while rolling, one contact point moves faster than the other, the mouthpiece
is off line and worthless. A contact point must not break off or be visible again further up. at the
front because this is evidence of a hole or scratch in the facing.
If the contact points are
not yet rolled up to the front and the tip is already visible, the mouthpiece will rattle, which is
not desirable, either.
If both contact points do not roll neatly onto the reed table it is probable
that your instrument as a whole will response badly; and you will not be able to play a round and
elegant legato because the vibration of the reed will break off with the smallest resistance of
the sound transition between two notes. Moreover, such as an imperfection in the reed table renders
your desired and flexible playing with tone colours more difficult.
With that we have reached the end of our little excursion which, of course, does not claim to be
complete. The skilled know how and all the little tricks relating to a clarinet mouthpiece could easily
fill a whole book which may be allocated within the circle of secundary literature to " ZEN IN THE
ART OF ARCHERY " .
For that very reason I urgently advise you against carriyng out any changes on
your own mouthpiece according to this little description. I myself have produced several shoe boxes full
of useless wooden mouthpieces before getting a more or less acceptable mouthpiece facing which indeed
deserves the name. Anyway, there is one thing I can tell you for sure:
NEVER CHANGE THE MOUTHPIECE ON WHICH YOU ARE JUST PLAYING.
Otherwise it could happen that the last door will slam shut behind you and the escape route will
remain closed for ever.
Maybe there is still one thing to be said: Almost every little lack of perfection concerning a
clarinet mouthpiece or a reed can be equalized by a players ability to implement a stable blowing and embouchure.
So it is not neccessary to be a freak inspecting your setup. Have fun with your mouthpiece and have
even more fun playing clarinet music and telling your story to the audience.