Embouchure Formation

Research response to 1997 survey published in “Selected Pedagogical Practices of College Instructors of Flute, Clarinet and Saxophone”:

With regard to clarinet and saxophone embouchure, although aspects of each embouchure are similar, the study observed that the lower lip, when playing the Bb soprano clarinet, is thinner than when playing alto saxophone. Many doublers distinguished the formation of the throat for saxophone to be more open than for clarinet. In addition, resultant frequencies support the observation that the clarinet requires a firmer embouchure grip and that overall, the air speed required for clarinet performance is faster than the air speed for saxophone.

The study observed the following in relation to overall embouchure muscle change/ movement for the three instruments: the clarinet embouchure remains the most rigid; the muscles involved in saxophone embouchure fluctuate moderately; and embouchure muscle change/movement for flute is more warranted than for clarinet and saxophone. Several respondents reported that muscle and jaw movement is feasible on the flute when changing registers, dynamic levels, and while articulating in a staccato manner during slow to moderate tempo passages.

The study sample concurred that it is advantageous to approach embouchure formation for the flute with a thick/full lower lip. In addition, most of the doublers recommend that the lips be loose and the corners of the mouth be slightly pulled down as if one were frowning. Very few doublers supported the "old school" method of forming an unrelaxed embouchure with a thin and tight lower lip.


Additional research, experiential observations and suggestions:

-it is helpful to work some with a specialist on each instrument; however, it is also very important to study with an established doubler who understands the similarities and differences of embouchure as well as articulation, breath support, etc. for each instrument

-simply put, there is not a basic embouchure that can be transferred from one instrument to the next – although there are similarities, each embouchure has distinct characteristics/properties

-mouthpiece work is important on clarinet and saxophone; periodically check your mouthpiece pitches to make sure your embouchure support and oral cavity shape is correct:

Bb Soprano Clarinet = C
Bass Clarinet = Gb

Soprano Saxophone = C
Alto Saxophone = A
Tenor Saxophone = G
Baritone Saxophone = D

-Flutists should consider the distance between their teeth, which should be a about a pencil width apart

-the Flute embouchure is much more relaxed than the other four woodwind instrument embouchures; approach the embouchure with corners of mouth slightly turned down and not pulled back and allow the air to form the aperture (lip opening); aperture should be round and not wide/oblong

-on Flute, be careful not to roll in too far, which creates a small or weak sounding tone; if your Flute tone sounds too open or fuzzy, you may be rolled out too far – try to cover about a 1/3 of the embouchure hole of the flute/head joint and use a mirror to check your coverage

-on Flute, playing softly requires a smaller round aperture, whereas playing louder dynamics requires a larger round aperture

-the Flute embouchure involves more jaw movement than the other four woodwind instruments

-inflation behind the cheeks should be avoided on Clarinet and Saxophone; however, moderate cheek inflation is beneficial to overall Flute tone and vibrato production

-given the higher mouthpiece pitches required for Clarinet performance, it is important to realize that the embouchure for Clarinet is considerably more rigid than the other woodwind instruments

-on Clarinet:

-point the chin down

-gather the corners of the mouth together towards the center of embouchure

-form a firm and thinner lower lip cushion (as compared to a thicker less firm cushion for Saxophone) for the reed to rest on

-keep the area below the lower lip flat

-approach the embouchure with strict musculature and air support (imagine the embouchure cast in cement and allowed to dry overnight = very little embouchure change occurs during performance compared to the other woodwind instruments

-finally, imagine a bumble bee buzzing at the tip of your nose!

-for overall Clarinet and Saxophone embouchure/tone production/control and precision, a woodwind doubler should consider carefully the differences in mouthpiece pressures (mouthpiece pitch), the amount of mouthpiece taken into the mouth and how much lip is in contact with the reed:

-increased mouthpiece pressure = brighter/focused sound

-more lip/reed coverage = darker sound

-less lip/reed coverage = brighter sound

-amount of mouthpiece = affects volume of sound and focus of tone quality

-most Saxophonists and Clarinetists agree that a darker sound quality is desired on Saxophone and that a brighter tone is desirable to Clarinet

-although I would never encourage a student to perform with a double lip embouchure (i.e. top and bottom teeth covered by upper and lower lips), occasional double lip embouchure practice, especially on Clarinet, can be helpful in reducing single reed instrument embouchure tension and can help improve articulation, overall control and flexibility

-The main challenge of playing Flute after Clarinet and Saxophone is that the lower lip is not as sensitive or flexible due to pressure exerted on the lower lip during Clarinet and Saxophone performance.  Therefore, approaching the Clarinet and Saxophone embouchures with as little pressure and movement will benefit Flute performance.

-on all instruments, occasionally practice in front of a mirror and/or video recording your embouchure during long tone and interval practice is helpful