Lip pushups anyone?
During my deeper explorations of clarinet playing, I stumble upon tiny techniques which have huge effects on playing. One of these is the importance of a firmly supported lower lip. (The upper lip has a different function, which I will address in another post.)
Since the lower lip is the only contact with the vibrating reed, its importance is obvious. It is especially critical to control of the reed in technical passages, when the reed must jump around with precision.
Any serious player has thought about this. Yet it is often forgotten when a clarinetist has achieved a certain level of competence. And while students may have been instructed in various embouchure formations, the importance of the lower lip may have been lost in other efforts.
I tell my students that the reed is like a puppy needing to be trained. And the embouchure, particularly the lower lip, is the leash to control it. If it's too loose, the puppy runs wild. Too tight and you choke it.
Let me clarify what is NOT involved in the use of the lower lip. Jaw pressure is NOT to be increased as the lower lip is tightened. Throat muscles are NEVER tightened.
I'll start with the assumption that you know how to form a basic clarinet embouchure: chin flat, corners pulled in towards each other, cheeks pulled in against the teeth and gums.
If you say the word "Ewww", with pursed lips, your lower lip should bunch up. Pull that bunched up lower lip into your mouth and form and embouchure. Say "Ewww" again, more emphatically. Tighten that lower lip in and together as much as you can, and a little more. Keep your chin pulled down.
The critical part of this musculature is the tension between the pulled down chin and the pulled up lip. Think of two arrows pointing up toward the reed as the direction of the lower lip. See the following illustration.
While doing the above exercise, check in with jaw and throat to be sure they didn't come along for the ride. It's harder than it seems to tighten your lower lip muscles without engaging those others unnecessarily. For that reason, I suggest the following exercise.
Form the embouchure as suggested above, place the clarinet in your mouth in ready position. Close the embouchure around the mouthpiece. Take a breath and DON'T play. Exhale through your nose. Keep the embouchure formed, concentrate on the lower lip pulling in and up. Relax your jaw and throat exaggeratedly.
Do this several times. Each time take note to relax the following in addition to jaw and throat: behind the eyes, forehead, sinuses, neck, shoulders, hips, knees, feet. You may enjoy this exercise and wish to continue for many breaths. Be careful not to hyper-ventilate.
Now play some slow scales, taking care to maintain the above achievements as you play.
Happy Music Making!