What is "resistance" in a mouthpiece? Or is it the reed?

What is "resistance" in a mouthpiece? Or is it the reed?

I got an email (one of many on this topic) asking about a mouthpiece that is “less resistant.” Here’s what this person wrote:

Hi, I noticed you mention on one of your store pages that you play on a vandoren B45• mouthpiece for B-flat clarinet, and I was wondering if you have experience with the standard B45? I play on a standard B45 right now (reed is 3.5 rue lepic), but I find it too resistant, even with softer strength reeds (3.5 rue lepic works best for me currently). I was wondering if the B45• plays the same as the standard B45 but with less resistance as it is advertised on vandoren's website? I'm also looking at the selmer paris concept as another option for replacing my B45. Thank you in advance.


I wrote back saying that I think the reed this person is using is too strong (even though they mention trying softer reeds). But here’s the thing: reeds need to be paired with a mouthpiece, and not every reed shape/variety (e.g., 56 Rue Lepic, V12, V12, Traditional, etc., etc.) will work with every mouthpiece. The cuts sometimes make as much of a difference as the strength.

But what is “resistance” anyway? Well, there are actually two kinds of resistance. The first is the amount of lip pressure required to produce the sound you want; the second is the amount of air pressure required to produce the sound you want.

WHAT IS Resistance?

Imagine you are blowing into a typical drinking straw. You can create more resistance by changing the diameter of the opening – squeezing the tip of the straw, for example. Or you could put a bunch of baffles inside the straw (maybe taking some of the paper the straw came in, and sticking it inside the tip of the straw). These are two ways mouthpiece manufacturers add resistance to their mouthpiece and which require you to use more air pressure. We’ll talk about that in a moment. But first, let’s talk about the other kind of resistance—lip pressure.

Lip Pressure

Are you someone who clamps down on your mouthpiece with your lips? (No judgement here!) If so, you are likely someone who prefers tonal control and color come from your embouchure. Here’s a clue to determine if this is you: if you play reeds harder than a 3.5, you probably fall into this category. This means you will need a mouthpiece that can handle stiffer reeds, which means you probably play a mouthpiece with a smaller tip opening, and/or a longer facing. Common (Vandoren) mouthpieces that fall into this category are:

  • M13

  • M30

  • B40

  • B50 (Bass Clarinet)

If you like to use less lip pressure, preferring the reed to vibrate more easily and freely, you likely have a mouthpiece with a larger tip opening and/or a shorter facing. For these mouthpieces you’d have good luck playing reeds that are softer than a 3.5. Common Vandoren mouthpieces that fit this bill are:

  • 5RV

  • B45

  • BD7

  • BD5 (Bass Clarinet)

Note that the “Lyre” or “13” or “•” (<dot) designation does not change the facing of the mouthpiece, but indicates changes to the inside of the mouthpiece, so the feel may be a bit different, but the reed should feel the same lip pressure.

Air Pressure

Now, air pressure is the other side of the coin. Of course we all need air pressure to produce a good sound, and our instruments provide much of the resistance. But mouthpiece manufacturers adapt the insides of their mouthpieces to produce a sensation of resistance. One of the primary adaptations is called the baffle of the mouthpiece. This is the area inside the mouthpiece right behind the reed—on the top of the inside of the mouthpiece. (A good way to picture this is if you were to drill a hole in a reed as it’s on the mouthpiece and look inside that tiny hole, you’d be looking at the baffle.) Generally speaking, the closer that baffle is to the physical reed, the brighter the sound, and the less resistant the mouthpiece will feel. This is called a high baffle.

Many people who play New Music, Jazz, and other styles that demand significant timbral variation prefer high-baffle mouthpieces, because they are “flexible.” The flip side is that high-baffle mouthpieces are often harder to control, meaning that along with this “free-blowing-ness” comes the need for more voicing ability. Life is a trade-off, isn’t it?

For a much more in-depth discussion of the inner-workings of mouthpieces, please head over to Brad Behn’s terrific site and get reading!


So, there’s a crash course in mouthpieces and resistance. In short, the process can be lengthy, because when you take into account facings, baffles, chambers, and the different shapes of all of the above, you have a nearly-infinite number of possibilities. Fortunately, I have the reeds for that exercise. Just order a few different cuts of different strengths and see what works best for that mouthpiece you’ve got — or the one(s) that you plan to try!

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