Hold It

Let’s talk about holding your clarinet properly. This topic seems so obvious that you’re probably tempted to stop reading right now. You’d be surprised, though, how many of us get it wrong at least some of the time—including me!

With a few simple adjustments to the way you hold the instrument, your control and sound (and grades!) will improve.

The Do’s

First, make sure you hold it with only two body parts: your right thumb and your two front teeth—the upper ones. That’s it.

Your right thumb holds the weight of the instrument, and your teeth on top of the mouthpiece keep the clarinet from cart wheeling over onto the floor. Now the rest of your body parts can relax and get into position to do their assigned tasks.

The Don’ts

Don’t let your right index finger rest on that side Bb/Eb key; it will open when you don’t want it to, and you will squeak! And don’t dare rest the bell on your knee! If you get used to resting the clarinet on your knee, standing up to play a solo or marching in a parade will really be a challenge!

The Tone Holes

Notice how the tone holes increase in size as they get farther from the mouthpiece? Using the proper part of your finger to cover these holes is mandatory, or you’ll slide off that large D/G hole when you try to use the four right-hand pinky keys.

Try putting your hands in position on the horn, covering all the holes, and pressing down hard. Now look at the little circles on your fingertips and make sure they’re on the fatty part. The little swirls in your fingerprints should be almost centered inside the rings.

Note, too, that the side keys for the right hand and the throat tone A and Ab keys are shaped to play with the sides of your fingers.

The clarinet is a marvel of ergonomic design and requires only a minimal amount of movement to use all the keys. By relaxing your hands and putting them in the proper position, your technique will become more fluid and accurate.

About the Author

Jim Snyder has been the busiest jazz clarinetist of the last 30 years, performing in clubs, concert halls and jazz festivals in the United States and abroad. Jim played for many years in New Orleans, where he was also a member of trumpet virtuoso Al Hirt’s band. He is regularly featured as a guest artist in concerts and recordings and is a staff musician for the Walt Disney Company. His solo CD, “Coliseum Square,” was released on the Apple Jazz label. Visit www.theclarinetguy.com.

Looking Back and Ahead in 2013

Read the musings of Halftime Magazine publisher and editor-in-chief Christine Ngeo Katzman. In this May/June 2013 issue, she reflects on the 2013 WGI World Championships.