Creating Characteristic Clarinet Tone

Creating that perfect sound on your clarinet. It’s what every clarinetist wants, right? With the most complex embouchure of all the wind instruments (I know because I play them all!), there are so many factors that can affect your tone quality.

Let’s talk about basics.

What does a characteristic clarinet tone sound like?

If you don’t know, you can’t possibly create that sound!
Listen to a professional clarinetist or two (or ten…) and listen to the distinct qualities of their sound. Think about the sound in specific ways using simple adjectives: smooth, dark, rich, creamy, delicious….wait…that’s chocolate. Close enough. Ok, more adjectives: bright, light, thin, fat, silky, colorful, ordinary, full, etc.
Of course, the music might play a factor in some of what you perceive, but overall, you should notice some distinctions of the individual’s sound.

Decide what you want your tone quality to be based on your listening of professionals.

This is your goal: make that tone happen on your clarinet, or at least something in that realm. The more you listen to different clarinet sounds, the easier this will be.  The more you practice it, the better you get at it.

Practice long tones.

SO. BORING. Maybe so, but if you are practicing with your sound in mind, you will find that your are more actively engaged in the long tone process by listening more carefully to your sound. Practicing in front of a mirror is extra helpful to make sure your embouchure formation is correct. Practice long tones in all registers, starting with the chalumeau register (open G), working down to low E. Slowly. More slowly than you like. Use a metronome.

Two main things are happening during long tones at the beginning of your practice session:
1. Attention to embouchure
2. Attention to tone production
Without these two things, you might as well not even get the thing out of the case.

Understand the Embouchure

Without an understanding of how the embouchure works, tone quality work is pointless.

Correct Emb side
Correct embouchure in side view. Notice the chin is flat, upper lip is pressing downward, corners of mouth pressed inward.
Correct Emb front
Correct embouchure. Chin is flat, upper lip pressing downward (notice the nostrils are stretched downward also), corners pressed to the mouthpiece (not “smiling”).

WHAT YOU CAN SEE is only part of the picture. There are so many ways to explain or describe this, and different descriptions work for different folks. Watch videos of pros. Look at their faces. Examine the details. Copy it in front of a mirror. Analyze your results as you play. A recording device may help (I often use the voice recorder on my smart phone).

WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE is largely affected by what you can see, but you must be aware of your tongue position. Think of a wedge. Make your tongue like a wedge, high in the back of your mouth with the tip of the tongue “floating” just behind your teeth. The back sides of your tongue should press against the upper molars.

In short: the embouchure should be evenly round, pressing evenly against the mouthpiece and reed with NO tooth pressure on the bottom lip. The tongue should be high in the back of the mouth.

Other considerations

Right hand thumb position: must be correct in order to put pressure against the embouchure.
Mouthpiece: Are you using a quality mouthpiece? If there is no brand name on it with a model number, you should probably look into an upgrade.
Reeds: Is your reed working correctly? Is it the right strength for your mouthpiece? Is it a quality brand clarinet reed?
Clarinet: Is it in complete working order? Has it been play-tested by a professional and approved?
Private instruction: Having a private clarinet teacher is invaluable. There is nothing like having instructions tailored to your exact needs.


Creating characteristic clarinet tone is a process that requires listening, analyzing, practicing, analyzing, listening, and proper equipment. And analyzing. Decide how you want to sound and make it happen.

As always, practice with patience and perseverance!








2 thoughts on “Creating Characteristic Clarinet Tone

  1. Great article on how the embouchure works. I especially like the demonstration photos and showed them to my daughter who plays the clarinet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *