Biting holes in a mouthpiece patch? You may have this issue.

I got a note today from a 15 year old clarinetist and saxophonist who writes:

My name is Joel. I am 15 years old and I play the clarinet and the tenor sax. I've got a problem with my embouchure. I have seen that nowadays I am breaking all my clarinet and sax mouthpiece cushions with my teeth. This didn't happen to me before. How can I fix my problem?

I asked him to send me a picture and video. He did:

Hi Joel,

I’m not sure what you used to do that changed, now that you’re biting through your mouthpiece patches. And, to be sure, everyone will eventually need to replace the patch on their mouthpiece occasionally. They wear out. Mine last about 2 months.

But if you are biting through them as quickly as you say, I think you’ve got something else going on.

Looking at your video and the photo you sent, it appears that you have an issue with biting. Biting is a problem when you use too much jaw muscle in your embouchure—and you should never pinch the reed and mouthpiece. You seem to play with the “corners back” type of embouchure (as if you are smiling), and that is one that actually causes more biting. Instead you should think “corners forward,” where you use the side muscles of your mouth to create a “rubber band” around the mouthpiece, and which counters the tendency to bite.

Here’s a video that has an exercise to show you what those muscles feel like.

Once you have tried this exercise, you’ll probably feel sore. And those muscles that feel sore are the ones that you need to be using in your embouchure. And, as an added benefit, your sound will be more open, and you will not bite through your mouthpieces patches as quickly.

Unless you have really, really, really sharp teeth.