3 top tips for parents of a beginner clarinetist!

Helping parents understand how to support their child having success in music lessons is one of our main priorities. We want to share good practice that will ensure your child has the best start to music lessons and fall in love with their instrument.

Tip 1 – Clarinet Reeds

It is so important when learning the clarinet that your child has a good selection of reeds. This also applies to the saxophone, oboe and bassoon.

The reed is essential for creating a sound on the clarinet, and without it, the instrument doesn’t work properly. At the very start, beginners will go through reeds quite quickly. This is because they catch the reed on clothes, in their hair and don’t assemble it correctly so the reed chips quickly. Once your child has mastered this, the reeds will last longer.

Clarinet mouthpiece with reed. Mouthpiece are generally made of ebonite.

Clarinet reeds can be bought in a box of 10 or as a single reed, depending if you buy from the internet or from a music shop. I tend to recommend buying a box at a time as the 10 reeds will last your child a good while, rather than only having a single reed at a time.

Each teacher will have a varying opinion on what strength and brand of reed to buy. I personally start beginners on strength 1 1/2 and recommend Vandoren brand. I play on this brand of reed myself and I have always found the reeds to be of good quality and last well. Children who start the clarinet in the American band programmes often start on stronger reeds such as 2 or 2 1/2 reeds and Rico is another popular reed maker.

There are a few ways your child can ensure the reed lasts. Firstly, it is good practice to put the metal or plastic cap on the mouthpiece to protect the reed when not playing in rehearsals. This will stop the accidental breakages on clothes, etc. At the end of each practice session it is good practice to take the reed off the mouthpiece and dry both the reed and mouthpiece and then store the reed in the reed case. Many students don’t follow this hygienic way of storing reeds so the reed stays a bit damp and then gets moldy. The reed starts to turn a darker colour and at some point it’s not really hygienic to play on and should be thrown away.

2. The benefits of a neck strap

Over the years I have become a big fan of the the neck strap for the clarinet. I had always used one for playing the saxophone but not for the clarinet. I had an adjustable right-hand thumb rest on my clarinet and although this helped, the pain I sometimes got in my thumb from playing the clarinet was annoying and sore. It actually took some of the enjoyment out of playing the clarinet.

In truth the clarinet is quite heavy and long which can cause problems for our younger students. I recommend purchasing a neck strap to many of my beginner students to help with balancing the weight of the instrument so they don’t get frustrated playing and have pain in their right thumb. The strap tends to cost around $30 and I personally use a BG flexible neck strap because it has a bit of stretch that makes movement of the instrument easier. I wish this had been available to purchase when I first started learning the clarinet many years ago.

Tip 3 – Servicing the instrument

I can’t emphasis enough the importance of having an instrument that is in good working condition. So many students struggle learning an instrument and blame themselves when things go wrong; when in fact the clarinet has easily fixable problems.

Ensuring the instrument is serviced annually is important. It’s so easy for the metal key work to get bent slightly out of line, particularly at the bottom end of the clarinet. Also, each key has a pad. These can often become loose or worn down and need replacing. Another part of the instrument that can get damaged is the cork that is between each joint of the instrument. All are easily fixable by a specialist woodwind repairer.

These are minor repairs and really don’t cost a lot of money. But, without them being fixed the instrument doesn’t work properly and it will stop your child making great progress.

Bad instruments or instruments that are not serviced regularly will lead to students thinking they aren’t any good at playing and quit.

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