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20 Years Ago in Bandworld
Clarinet Embou-Sure
by M. Max McKee

Preparation

It is my basic assumption that you will be teaching this concept to several elementary (or at least beginning) students at one time. I also assume that right now you have a clarinet (in its case) in front of you and that you will follow along step by step to carefully learn this concept.

LABELING BARRELS

Using self-stick, peel-off type labels, remove and label each student's barrel for easy identification. Add the mouthpiece to make up the basic mouthpiece/ barrel combinations and slip the ligatures over the mouthpieces. This will allow you to take all of these units to one area for addition of reeds. If you can possibly work it out to have this done before the students arrive, it will be a significant time-saver.

SOAKING REEDS

Now, using a pan or bowl filled with water, dump in about twice as many 2 1/2 or medium (not soft) reeds as there are clarinet mouthpiece/barrel combinations. Let the reeds soak for a couple of minutes and then begin "setting up" the mouthpiece /barrel/ligature combinations with free-blowing reeds. [Here is the one point in this whole operation where you need my assistance; but, as I'm not there to help you, enlist the most experienced clarinetist you can find to set you up with a free-blowing reed (tested on your clarinet!).]

COLOR AND SYMMETRY

Now that the reeds have soaked, select reeds with the same color characteristics as the one enclosed with EMBOU-SURE: Golden brown with absence of heavy black streaks in the bark of the cane.

Also check the reed to see if the cut is symmetrical (fig. 1) both on the face and on the butt-end. Now hold the reed upside down and look at the heart and tip area while holding it toward a strong light. Be sure that the shaded areas of light and dark cane (translucent and opaque) are also symmetrically cut as shown in figure 2.

Though control of these factors can never guarantee a free-blowing reed, it definitely places the odds firmly in your favor.

REED PLACEMENT & LIGATURE TIGHTNESS

Place the soaked reed in position against the mouthpiece, but...to avoid the possibility of chipping the tip of the reed, leave the ligature on the mouthpiece. Raise it just far enough toward the tip of the mouthpiece so that the butt-end of the reed will slide under it and into approximate position. Now, carefully align the reed both at its tip and at the butt-end: Reed tip even with or a hairline below the extreme tip of the mouthpiece; butt-end centered side to side on the flat area (table) of the mouthpiece.

Then push the ligature snugly downward and check to be sure that the (hopefully present) engraved line (nearest the tip if there is more than one) around the mouthpiece is an eighth to three-sixteenths of an inch above the ligature. Now tighten the two screws until very snug but not until they can cause damage to the cane! (Maximum tightening once screw friction begins: 1 1/2 turns.)

Reed alignment and ligature tightness are extremely important. A reed placed too high or too low will not respond correctly. Placed too high, it in effect becomes a slightly stiffer reed; too low, it will not vibrate properly. When the reed is not centered on the table, vibration is also greatly affected. When the ligature is too tight, the cane of the reed is gradually warped; when the ligature is too loose, the reed literally moves around on the table--a full-bodied tone is a virtual impossibility. THESE FACTORS ARE CENTRAL IN MY INSISTENCE THAT THE TEACHER SOAK, TEST, ALIGN, AND TIGHTEN THE REED. A host of undesirable variables are thereby eliminated and the student's chances of immediate success are multiplied many times over.

CLARINET BODY ASSEMBLY

Assembling the body of the clarinet for each student (again, prior to class time if possible) and laying it in the student's case is another important facet of EMBOU-SURE. At the point in teaching where the body of the clarinet is needed, the last thing you want to do is break the train of thought by having to stop to explain the hazards of joining the bridgework between the upper and lower joints. You must, of course, be prepared to teach this, but that comes at the end of the first lesson--not in the middle.

So, assemble the clarinet bodies (carefully checking the position of the bridge keys) and place them in their respective cases beside each student's chair. You are now ready for that new batch of fledgling clarinetists!

                                                                                                                                                   [continued]

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