One of the most used instruments in the woodwind family, the clarinet is believed to have been invented in the early 1700s but the origins of this instrument date back to 3000 B.C.! The clarinet has a single reed that vibrates on a mouthpiece. Unlike most wind instruments, the body of the clarinet is cylindrical, not conical. That means that the instrument doesn't progressively get wider like a trumpet or a flute, but it stays the same shape until the flaring at the bell. The clarinet is a special instrument because it can be featured in a variety of ensembles. There are about 13 different types of clarinets but the most popular types are the Bb clarinet, and the bass clarinet.
The versatile clarinet is one of the few instruments that can be comfortable in a classical wind ensemble or a big band jazz group. The clarinet's wide spectrum of sounds goes from mellow low to bright high notes, which makes the clarinet a very dynamic instrument and a joy to play.
How does Clarinet contribute to a band or orchestra?
Sometimes the clarinet is used to balance the high sounds of the flutes or to add more middle voices to the woodwind section. Because of its versatile range, the clarinet is often featured to portray many different moods in orchestral pieces.
The parts of a clarinet:
- The mouthpiece is actually three pieces in one: the ligature secures the reed on the mouthpiece. The player slides the ligature over the mouthpiece and tightens it to secure the reed.
- The barrel is a small piece that connects the mouthpiece to the rest of the instrument.
- The upper joint (left hand) and the lower joint (right hand) have the keys and rod system that allow the performer to play different notes. Some keys have holes in them, and some don't.
- The bell is the bottom piece of the clarinet. It is the only piece that gradually gets wider.
How to pick a good clarinet:
Getting your first clarinet is a big deal; here are some things to consider. Wood or Synthetic? Synthetic clarinets are made out of plastic so they are lighter and less expensive. Most students start on a plastic clarinet because they are stronger and easier to maintain. They are also good for marching band because you don't have to worry about the rain ruining your wooden clarinet. All of the pros use wood clarinets, though, because they prefer a richer more vibrant sound. New or used? Your local music retailer will be able to advise you on pre-loved instruments that they have in stock. This can be a worthy alternative., Beware of the internet! You will not get the support, advice and service you will get from your local retailer. If you are going to buy a used clarinet, be sure to check the keys to make sure they aren't leaking or noisy. Also, check the body of the clarinet for dents and a worn finish. Make sure the pads and the cork are still in good shape, too. If you decide to get a used clarinet, make sure a professional looks at it to make sure it's a good instrument. You will have it for a while.
- Use a mouthpiece cap. It can protect both your reed and your mouthpiece from getting ruined.
- The reed's vibrations create the clarinet's sound, good reeds are essential to good playing. Keep your reeds in good shape.
- There is a product called cork grease that clarinetists use to make putting the instrument together a little easier. Ask your teacher how to use it, but don't put on too much... your clarinet could get really gross from the excess grease.
Did you know?
Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, also invented the bass clarinet. He made it a lot easier to play by using parts that are similar to the saxophones.