Open Mouthpieces vs. Closed Mouthpieces?

Open Mouthpieces vs. Closed Mouthpieces?


Last week I got a question — well, more like 4-questions-in-one — from 7th-Grader, Jerry, which touches on a few important things that many clarinetists think about. I thought I’d share, just in case it might help some of you.

Jerry writes:

I have been playing the Bb Clarinet for four years now, and I am currently in 7th Grade. [Ed note: HOLY MOLY, starting as a THIRD grader Jerry? That’s impressive!]

I have a few questions: I currently play on the [Vandoren] B45 mouthpiece and I saw in your shop that you recommend both the V12 and the 56 Rue Lepic. I currently play on V12s and I am wondering what the differences are if I play on the 56. My band teacher says I sound too bright.

Also, I saw in one of your comments on one of your Youtube Videos that reeds played should be softer on open mouthpieces like the B45. Right now, I play on a 3 that has been softened considerably (using the technique you showed in one of your videos). Last year, when band was still a thing, the people around me were all using 3.5s but none of them were using the B45 mouthpiece — and I think and my band teacher said that we shouldn't be using 2.5s anymore. I struggle to play on a 3 and I am wondering if this is due to a problem with my embouchure or that the B45 mouthpiece makes it harder to play on tougher reeds.

One final question: when I am playing a longer piece (in this case it is the whole Klose Scale page), I often get this feeling of a whole bunch of air jammed in my mouth that I want to release. It makes it harder to play and I notice that this only happens in the middle and towards the end of it.


…to which I responded:

Hi Jerry, and thank you for writing — it’s great to hear from young musicians like you, and I am always honored to help in any way I can.

First of all, do you have a private clarinet teacher? If so, you might consider talking to them about your specific needs as a player. No one clarinet mouthpiece is right for everyone, and no setup (a “setup” is mouthpiece/reed/ligature combination) is right for everyone either.

That said, you have chosen a very “open” mouthpiece in the B45. What that means is that you have to play lighter reeds (like you mention) in order to get the same “mouth feel” and “resistance” (the feeling that the instrument is pushing back against you when you blow into it). A better mouthpiece for a young player like you (or an old player like me!) is something like a 5RV or 5RV-Lyre. Those are more “middle-of-the-road” mouthpieces—not closed, nor open. Initially you would feel like they are too easy to play, and that your reeds close off—or even that they feel too resistant—but within a week, and a few new reeds, you will notice that it is easier to play than the B45. For the 5RV, you will have no problem playing V12 3s. Maybe even 3.5s.

The funny thing is, I personally have made this change in my own setup. I used to play a B45 and went to the 5RB-Lyre and find that it is much easier to play. In the beginning I felt “I HATE THIS” but I knew that if I gave it a little time, I would adjust. Now, when I play the B45, it feels way too big for me.

Next, about your question about the Klosé, it’s quite possible that you are biting. This is also likely because your mouthpiece is so open that you HAVE to bite in order for it to make a sound. This might be solved simply by trying another mouthpiece like I suggest above, but it may also be an indication of something you need to work on with your embouchure.

Finally, about your peers, and what they are playing on: STOP WORRYING ABOUT IT. Music is not a sport, especially not a competition to see who can play the hardest reeds. Your band director should know this if s/he is a clarinet player. But if they’re not, here’s the deal: if you sound good, they won’t care what strength reeds you play. Last time I checked, there was no special part of your grade that was attached to how hard your reed is!

Any other thoughts for Jerry, please leave them in the comments below!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!



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