Why Are My Clarinets Playing Flat?

If you have clarinets playing flat, it needs to be addressed immediately as it is often a symptom of a much more significant problem. The good news is that by fixing the things mentioned below, it should not only improve their intonation, it should drastically improve their tone as well.

Mouthpiece & Barrel:
Have the students play for you individually on mouthpiece/barrel. The pitch should be an F# (concert pitch). If they are sharp, that’s ok (for now). They should not be flat. Let the child watch a tuner. (If they are up to pitch on mouthpiece/barrel but not on the instrument, skip down to the part about “adding the instrument.”) Have a mirror available so they can see what you are looking for.

If they are flat, address these things:

Voicing – They should be thinking/voicing “EEE” in their mouth. The tongue should be as high as possible. You can also say “high and forward.” Have them say “aaah” then “eee” to show them how much the tongue can move in their mouth. Then have them play and think “eee.” It’s possible they can pull the pitch up enough to hear it, kind of like a “siren.” Have them try to hold the pitch as high as possible and then keep thinking “eee” more.  You can also try having them say “hee.”

Anchor – The top of the mouthpiece should be firmly on the upper teeth. I highly recommend thick mouthpiece patches (See the article explaining why here.) If there is any way your band program can just pay to get them for all your clarinetists it is well worth the investment. If not, send out an email to parents asking them to get them as soon as possible. They should be securing the mouthpiece to the top teeth by pressing up at the angle of the instrument. (Not directly up to the ceiling, but more up into the teeth, mouth)

  • Check this by gently “wiggling” the mouthpiece as they play. It should not move at all.

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