Updated: Aug 4, 2021
By the end of this post you’ll know an easy and proven way to set your clarinet student up for success in band.
In the initial stages of learning to play clarinet there is low-hanging fruit that can instantly improve your sound and make playing/learning the instrument easier.
I'm talking about what clarinetists call it a “setup.” Unfortunately, awareness is lacking on the importance of a clarinet setup- it’s a thing!
The word ‘setup’ refers to the combination of mouthpiece, ligature, reed, and barrel. In this post I'm only covering the mouthpiece-ligature-reed part of the setup pictured from left to right in the photo below. There's an assembled mouthpiece in the background:
“But our clarinet already came with this stuff.” Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the stock mouthpiece, ligatures, and cheap reeds that come with most student clarinets should be discarded.
More important than how inadequate the stock setup may be, is that it will inhibit the growth and success of your clarinetist by making the instrument harder to play.
A good setup makes playing the clarinet exponentially easier. So, it adds to the student’s enjoyment of learning and playing.
It’s not uncommon for students to see immediate results when they switch to a good setup. Even if the results aren't immediate, it becomes possible for students to learn how to play the instrument well.
Benefits of the setup I recommend:
Quality reeds of the proper strength play with a beautiful and in-tune sound
Hard rubber mouthpieces have better pitch and articulation than the cheaper plastic stock mouthpieces
Good ligatures allow the reed to vibrate freely improving tone and ease of articulation, especially in extreme registers.
With so many great mouthpieces, ligatures, and reeds on the market, there are many good setup possibilities. Ask your clarinet teacher what setup they recommend.
Here is the setup I recommend for beginners:
Mouthpiece: Vandoren 5RV Lyre- 13 Series
I like this mouthpiece because it is responsive and easy to control in all registers of the instrument.
Because this mouthpiece is fairly open at the tip, it allows students flexibility as they learn how to blow into the instrument.
Basically the thing is easier to blow into than the cheap plastic mouthpieces.
Ligature: D’Addario Silver Plated H Ligature
In my opinion, this ligature plays comparably to some $200 alternatives.
At $30 it‘s easy on the wallet to replace should the need arise.
I actually play on the gold-plated model of this ligature myself.
Reeds: Vandoren Blue Box Strength 2 or 2.5
My crystal ball is in the shop for maintenance, so I can’t know what the perfect strength reed for every student is without working with them. Usually size 2 or 2.5 is best to get started.
This is a box of ten, but try getting a few single reeds in varying sizes. Then, figure out which strength works best for you. Your clarinet teacher can help.