The clarinet is a wind instrument that is part of the smaller subset of woodwind instruments. The clarinet is a long cylindrical tube with a mouthpiece at one end and a bell at the other. The body is covered with tone holes and keys that are use to create certain notes.
Before we identify how the mouthpiece works, it is important to understand the mouthpiece and all of its components.
Components of the Mouthpiece
Mouthpiece – The mouthpiece of a clarinet is a solid piece often made from ebony, crystal, or wood. Each material lends itself to a different sound. For example, ebony is often produces a water sound than plastic. It is preferred by many classical and jazz players. Crystal has bright sound and is great for jazz and outdoor performances. Wood, though not commonly used, produces the warmest sound.
The mouthpiece consists of different areas such as the tip, beak, window, reed table, and tenon. The beak is the slanted underside of the mouthpiece that extends to the tip. The window is the opening in which a player blows air through. The reed table is the flat surface on which the reed is placed. Finally, the tenon is a cork attachment that is used to fasten the mouthpiece to the barrel of the clarinet.
Reed – Clarinets are single reed instruments. The reed is typically made from a type of grass or synthetically manufactured. These manufactured reeds have become quite standard as the mass production has them produced to exact specifications.
Reeds do vary in terms of their hardness and range from soft to hard. The characteristics of the reed determine ease of playability, pitch, and tone. Reeds are considered the key to making sound for the clarinet.
Ligature – The ligature is a metal cylinder used to fasten a reed to a mouthpiece. In earlier days, twine was used as a way to secure the reed to the mouthpiece. Today ligatures wrap around the mouthpiece and reed and can be tightened by screws.
How They Function Together
Those three main components make up the mouthpiece and result in the beautiful sound produced by the clarinet.
First, we’ll start by reiterating that the ligature is used as a way to fasten the reed onto the reed table of the mouthpiece. The importance of the ligature comes into play in terms of how tightly fastened onto the mouthpiece it is. It shouldn’t be so tight that the reed cannot vibrate. However it shouldn’t be loose enough to where the reed slide whenever the player blows into the mouthpiece.
Whenever air is blown past the reed, the reed vibrates. This vibration causes the reed to hit the mouthpiece. As the reed opens and closes, puffs of air are sent into the mouthpiece and into the clarinet.
If the player increases the air pressure, essentially blowing harder into the mouthpiece, the speed of the vibrating reed increases. The goal is to make the reed vibrate as much as possible, creating a fuller, warmer, and louder sound.
Not all mouthpieces are created the same. For example, adjusting the mouthpieces tip opening along with the reed’s length can change the timbre of the instrument. This happens because the resulting reed vibrations will change.
The facing and tip of a mouthpiece can also vary and are directly related. If a clarinet’s facing is longer than the tip is typically smaller. If the facing is shorter than the tip is usually larger. This variance affects factors such as needed reed strength, sound and timbre, and projection.
The chamber of the mouthpiece can also differ, causing different effects. The chamber is the first area that air travels through once it is past the exterior window. Smaller chambers allow for greater focus of sound but less range. Larger chambers allow clarinetists more flexibility of sound.
Something as seemingly minute as lip position and pressure can also change the overall sound produced by the instrument. Uneven pressure or positioning can cause the vibrations and airtight seal over the mouthpiece to change, therefore changing the resulting sound.
The player’s embouchure, the mouthpiece, the ligature, and the reed are probably the main factors that play a part in the resulting sound the of clarinet.
Andrew Fujii is a marketing professional with expertise in digital/web and content marketing. He is also a copywriter for multiple agencies producing copy for blogs, articles, websites, product packaging, mobile apps, and more.