This is a guest post from Rheuben Allen, taken from his site with permission.
Why do young clarinet players play flat?
Elementary school and middle school students who choose to play the clarinet often have an issue playing in tune. But they’re not necessarily to blame.
The manufacturers of many student clarinets sell instruments with barrels that are simply too long for the beginning player. So if you, or your child, are playing a clarinet straight out of the case and are having an issue with pitch, the solution might be simpler than you think.
Young students who are just starting to produce sound on their instruments but have not yet developed a good embouchure are better off using a shorter barrel at the beginning. By using a longer barrel, they can actually develop a few bad habits that will be harder to change later on down the line. These habits can include biting the reed or tightening the bottom lip in order to get the pitch up.
In result, these bad habits cause the tone to become thin and affect the response of the instrument. Students then struggle to play unnecessarily.
The majority of student clarinets come with a 65mm or 66mm barrel. These barrel lengths usually require a thicker reed (3.5 to 5 strength) to get the pitch up to where it needs to be and many young students aren’t yet ready for a hard reed.
Because students aren’t yet ready for harder reeds, the better option would be to use either a 64mm or 63mm barrel so that they have the opportunity to develop a more relaxed embouchure. This will allow them to more easily produce a better tone and they will be more comfortable playing. It will make their experience that much more enjoyable!