One of the most fundamental elements of clarinet technique is posture. Bad posture can result in poor air support, incorrect embouchure and even strain or injury to nerves in the arms. But proper positioning is not difficult, it just takes a little knowledge and self-awareness. A good teacher can help a lot with this!
Take a few moments to check the following the next time you practice:
1. Standing. I always recommend that students practice standing; it promotes good posture and breath support, and one is generally required to stand to play for tests, auditions and concerts anyway. Balance your weight evenly over both of your feet, and keep your knees soft. Your shoulders should be relaxed; don’t aggressively pull them back, or lift them when you breathe. If you’ve gotten into this (common) bad habit, try asking a friend to put their hands on your shoulders for a few minutes while you play.
2. Whether sitting or standing, head position is crucial. Your head should be held straight, floating gently and evenly above your neck. If you put your fingers just below your ears, you can feel a soft spot between the base of your skull and your jaw; your head should balance gently at this point, so that you are not using much energy (muscle tension) to support it. Keep your head balanced, and bring the clarinet to your mouth (not the other way around!).
3. The clarinet should meet your mouth at an angle of 30-40%. It is very common to see young students holding the instrument much further out, even 90% in some cases (especially if you are dipping your head to the mouthpiece). A sharper angle will encourage a better embouchure, and greater control over the air stream.
4. Your hands should be soft, rounded and relaxed, with the knuckles roughly parallel to the body of the instrument. The left hand index finger should curve gently, so that it is close to (but not touching) the G# and A keys. The common mistake with hand position is to hold fingers too flat, especially pinkies. Take a moment to check if you’re doing this, and to try and curve your fingers more if you are. Playing with flattened fingers can mean they are less agile, and in some cases can even lead to a repetitive stress injury.
With these simple tips, your playing can become much freer and more relaxed. And, I hope, even more fun!