How to strengthen a "weak" embouchure

How to strengthen a "weak" embouchure

I got a letter from a reader today who is struggling with mouth fatigue. He writes:

Hello Michael, I have been playing Bb clarinet for two years and my embouchure is strengthening at a glacial pace. This in spite of the qt exercises. For some reason I just have a weak embouchure. I would like to advance from a 2.0 reed to a 2.5 but the sound I get from a 2.5 is muffled and unpleasant. I also become fatigued more quickly. I have a theory that if I stick with the 2.5 my embouchure will respond to the added stress by gaining strength at an accelerated pace. I'll have less fun listening to myself for a while but there may be a reward after a couple of months. What do you think?

This issue is more common in adults (than children) as our muscles degrade with age. That’s why the QT exercise is so important, and so important to do correctly and regularly. Be sure you are doing it properly—press the corners of your mouth into your teeth as hard as you can, and do the “wrap” (moving from “Q” to “T”) very slowly. Exaggerate the “Q” by pushing your lips out as far as they can go. Then do it a little farther. Same for the “T”: try to imagine touching the corners of your mouth to your ears. S—t—r—e—t—c—h!!!

By the way, do not do this right before practicing. You will be tired, especially if you do it properly!

Finally, practicing every day (like exercise) is the key to growth. Adding 20 pounds to a barbell won’t speed you along; it could well injure you. Same goes for reed strength. The reed needs to match the mouthpiece. If you like your sound on a 2, there’s no reason to change it. The strength of the reed has no bearing on the quality of the player. I personally play on 2.5 reeds (on a wide-open mouthpiece, which requires it), and have been playing almost every day for over 40 years. 

For those interested in checking out the “QT” exercise in practice, watch the video below!

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