Does your posture and playing position matter? YES! Read on to find out more...
Your posture and playing position have a great impact upon your clarinet sound. It also has an impact on the ease of air movement into the instrument. There are many different theories on how someone should position themselves when they play, and different teachers will describe it with slight variations. It is all about finding what works for you.
I like to focus on one basic main principle, to focus on the mid section of your body. The muscles that you use to blow fast air into the clarinet are located right around your belly button. If you put a hand on your belly button and huff some bursts of really fast air, you will feel those muscles working in and out against your hand. You want those muscles to have lots of space, and not be squished, which happens if you are inadvertently slouching.
Here is a good way for you to create room for your diaphragm (or “blowing”) muscles to work. Find the bottom of your rib cage. If you feel along the side of your body, you can usually feel where your bottom rib is. To help you find your ideal posture, put a hand on your bottom rib, sticking it out to your side as a marker. Next, with your other hand, reach down, and find the top of your hip bone. Place that hand as a marker, sticking out perpendicular to that hip bone, below your other hand. You now can look at your hands and notice how much space is between them. Stand up. In this position, your hands will be open, and far apart. This is the ideal posture for clarinet playing. Keep your hands in place and sit down. Slouch. Notice how your hands suddenly get much closer together. When you slouch, your ability to produce fast air and good tone is greatly diminished, because you are squishing these blowing muscles. While you are sitting, try to lift your ribs up and away from your hips as much as possible.
You also want your spine to be lifted and straight, which will help to open up that belly button area. Imagine that I have a little hook at the back of my neck, and I am basically being lifted from that hook. That gives me strength in my spine. Once your spine is upright, you want your shoulders to release all tension, and hang loosely from your frame. You can practise this by lifting your ribs and neck up so that you have an upright spine, and then letting your shoulders drop, and have your arms move in a loose and relaxed manner. It is natural to hold tension in your shoulders, but you want your shoulders, throat, arms and hands to be very relaxed when you play. Tension can make playing the clarinet much more difficult.
When you play your head should look straight forward. It is very tempting to look down at your clarinet as you learn to play. However, if your head is looking down, you will be restricting your air passageway. More importantly, when you look down, you affect the angle that the clarinet makes with your mouth. Moving your head up or down while you play will greatly affect your tone quality. There is an optimum spot for each person, and that can vary depending upon your jaw structure. For most people, it involves having their head up, and their clarinet pulled inside of their knees if they are sitting. You can experiment with how you sound by pulling your clarinet in quite close to your body, and then moving it out to an extreme angle.
Notice where you sound best, and aim to make that a habitual position when you play.