Why I can't I play loud?

Why I can't I play loud?

I got an email from a student in marching band today named Abigail. She writes:

Hello, i am a Bb clarinet player in marching band, and I keep getting comments on my volume and just generally being heard.

I am playing so loud sometimes I squeak really bad. I play on a Vito and use size 3 cane reeds. I don't know what type of mouthpiece I am using, but would also like some recommendations for different ones.

On a related note, she continued,

I also have issues with my embouchure. Whenever I play for longer periods of time, I seem to chew up the inside of my mouth. Is this normal or is something I could change? Thanks!

So, this post’s topic is about how mouthpiece/reed combinations, and how to get the right one for your needs.

But first, my short answer to Abigail:

Trying to compete with brass and percussion (volume-wise) in marching band is a battle you will always lose as a clarinet player! Don’t try. You will wind up shredding your lip with your reed. (Sounds like that already is happening!)

But, that said, you may have options to get more sound out of that Vito.

How do I know what mouthpiece to get? Is there a “better” one?

Mouthpieces are very personal. What works for your stand partner may not work for you. There is no “better” or “worse” mouthpiece; just what is right for you. And to make things even more complicated, some mouthpieces are “right” for a certain situation, like marching band, but would sound like crap in a concert band setting.

Ugh, now I need to get TWO mouthpieces?!

No. Not necessarily. But let’s start at the beginning with a little bit of Clarinet Mouthpiece 101.

Mouthpieces are complex feats of engineering that take into account air flows and sound waves, material density and vibration, and other factors. Given all the possible combinations, it’s a surprise that Vandoren doesn’t have 10,000 different variations of mouthpieces for sale (but sometimes it seems like they do!)

But to simplify for you, let’s just talk about the opening, or the “facing” of the mouthpiece. This is the part that your reed touches, and not the internal dimensions that can also have endless variations.

Put simply, there are two main factors that make one mouthpiece feel differently from another: Tip opening and Facing length.


As a rule of thumb, a mouthpiece with a large tip opening, and long facing will produce a louder sound. But it will require a softer reed.

So, if you’re looking to try a really open mouthpiece, from Vandoren, you’d select the B45 or the BD7. Heck, the Vandoren 7JB clarinet mouthpiece is so big, you could drive a truck through it. From D’Addario, you’d choose the X25E. But then again, you will absolutely need to use a softer reed—often a LOT softer reed, like a #2.5 or even #2. If you don’t, the mouthpiece will feel way too hard to blow through to get a sound. And talk about chewing up the inside of your lower lip. Fuhgeddaboudit.

Now, you can ABSOLUTELY get a loud sound out of just about any mouthpiece. It’s not just large/long ones. But you will need to experiment with reed strengths. You may need a harder reed if you have a more closed/short mouthpiece. For example the Vandoren 5RV (or D’Addario X10) — a very middle-of-the-road mouthpiece in terms of its facing — will require a #3.5 reed. But these strengths are not rules, just starting-points.

Warning: I’m about do business with you. If you’re interested in experimenting with reed strengths, visit the reed page in my shop here. You can buy single reeds, and see what works best for you. It’s probably the easiest way to find your mouthpiece/reed combination “ballpark.” Then you can go ahead and buy a box of them wherever you get your reeds. But hopefully it’s from me. Because I’m cool.

Hope this helps Abigail, and everyone else who made it down this far in the post!



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