The following guidelines will help you decide if the clarinet is a good choice for you.
- Hands are large enough to reach all keys.
- Fingertips are large enough to cover the tone holes on clarinet.
- Thumbs are not double-jointed.
- Student's orthodontist approves of playing the clarinet.
- Eye-hand coordination is good.
- Reading skills are above average.
Listen to Examples
Assembly & Care
Avoid costly repairs!
If you can hear it clanking around as you put it together and pack it up, then you need to be more careful.
Assembling the Clarinet
- Put the thin end of the reed in your mouth to moisten it thoroughly while assembling your instrument. Rub a small amount of cork grease on all corks, if needed. Wash your hands.
- Hold the upper section in your left hand. Press your fingers over the tone holes. Take the lower section with your right hand, and again press your fingers over the tone holes. Gently twist the upper and lower sections together. The upper section's bridge key must be directly over the lower section's bridge key. All tone holes should be aligned.
- Twist the bell onto the cork of the lower section. Then twist the wider end of the barrel onto the cork of the upper section.
- Twist the mouthpiece into the barrel. The flat side of the mouthpiece should form a straight line with the register key and thumb rest. Place the reed on the mouthpiece.
- Put the thin end of the reed in your mouth to moisten it thoroughly.
- Looking at the flat side of the mouthpiece, the ligature screws extend to your right. Slide the ligature up with your thumb.
- Place the flat side of the reed under the ligature and against the mouthpiece.
- Lower the ligature and position the reed so that only a hairline of the mouthpiece can be seen above the reed.
- Gently tighten the ligature screws until they are firm. Do not overtighten!
Packing Up Carefully
Before putting your instrument back in its case after playing, do the following:
- Carefully remove the reed, wipe off excess moisture, and return it to the reed case. Remember, each reed costs at least $1.
- Remove the mouthpiece and wipe the inside with a clean cloth. Once a week, wash the mouthpiece with warm tap water. Dry thoroughly.
- Carefully grab the upper section with your left hand and the lower section with your right hand. Gently twist the sections apart and shake out the excess moisture.
- Drop the weight of your chamois or cotton swab through each section and pull through.
- Carefully twist and remove the barrel and the bell. Use the chamois or cotton swab to dry off any additional moisture.
- As you return each section to the correct spot in the case, check to be sure they are dry and positioned correctly.
- You should have no other materials in your case, except for those it was designed to hold. Do not use force when closing your case or you could damage the clarinet.
- Improper assembly may damage your instrument
- Damaged equipment will cause problems
To get the best sound or tone quality you should:
- Hold your instrument with good posture
- Play with good breath support, focused airstream, and strong embouchure formation
To control pitch you should:
- Develop good listening skills
- Practice different notes (positions and combinations)
Learn the Notes
One at a time...
Before you learn new songs, you need to learn the notes. Every clarinet player should understand how to read the fingering chart below. Practice holding the clarinet and placing your fingers in all the different combinations for the notes. You will be able to switch faster as your coordination and dexterity improves.
Articulation is the process of attacking and releasing a sequence of notes. Ending the sound is just as important as beginning the pitch. Use the "tip of your tongue at the top of your teeth."
Dexterity is a mental skill or quickness, as well as the readiness and grace in physical activity. In relation to playing an instrument, dexterity is the skill and ease of using your hands and fingers.
Your thumb may hurt while playing, but don't get in the habit of supporting the weight of the clarinet with other fingers. Also, you may have trouble if you curl your fingers or raise your fingers ("fan out") too far above the keys. Remember that evenness is better than speed. Playing fast, furious, and fumbling is simply not impressive.
How do you sound?
Embouchure (ahm'-bah-shure) is your mouth's position on the mouthpiece of the instrument. A good embouchure takes time and effort, so carefully follow these steps for success:
- Moisten your lips and roll your lower lip over your bottom teeth.
- Firm the corners of your mouth like a slightly puckered smile.
- Stretch your chin downward.
- Place the mouthpiece on your lower lip so that the reed extends about 1/2 inch into your mouth. Place upper teeth on top of the mouthpiece.
- Close your mouth around the mouthpiece. Keep the corners of the mouth firm and the chin pointing downward.
Start with the Mouthpiece Only
Form your embouchure with the reed in place and take a deep breath without raising your shoulders. Whisper "too" and gradually exhale your full airstream. Strive for an even tone.
Holding the Clarinet
Hold the clarinet up and aim the bell just past your knees.
- Place your right thumb under the thumb rest on the bottom.
- Cover the thumb key with your left thumb on the top.
- Your fingers should curve naturally like the shape of a "C."
- Use the pads of your fingers to cover the tone holes.
Posture & Poise
Sit on the edge of your chair, and always keep your:
- Spine straight and tall
- Shoulders back and relaxed
- Feet flat on the floor
- Music stand height-adjusted to read the music and watch the conductor
The oboe is a common pitch reference for tuning the ensemble, but the clarinet may be used since it is somewhat inflexible. The clarinet is built slightly sharper than the standard concert pitch of A440 and the register key produces notes that are not in tune with themselves. Students must listen carefully and make the appropriate adjustments for all three registers of the clarinet. The three registers of the clarinet are:
- Chalameau (low): Low E to third-line B-flat
- Clarion (middle): Third-line B-natural to C above the staff
- Altissimo (high): C-sharp above the staff to high C (with five leger lines)
Tuning & Pitch Control
Take control of your pitch.
Tuning is the process of matching pitch, which requires two sources: your instrument and another instrumentalist or electronic tuner. Experienced players tune to a "remembered" pitch.
How to Tune
- Warm up thoroughly before tuning.
- Tune to a reliable frequency using open "G" or "E" and adjust the barrel.
- Advanced players can tune both middle and 4th space C and adjust the middle joint.
- Use tuning rings to close the gap and maintain a constant setting.
- "Pull out" to lower the pitch.
- "Push in" to raise the pitch.
How to Control Pitch
The intonation of the clarinet is affected by changes in volume level. In general, playing softly causes notes to go sharp (too high) while playing forte (loud) causes notes to go flat (too low).
Even the upper register, which is normally flat, may become sharp when playing pianissimo (very soft). Soft playing causes the lower register to become even more sharp than normal.
Even the lower register, which is normally sharp, may become flat when playing forte (loud). Loud playing causes the upper register to become even more flat than normal.
Intonation & Technique
The Clarinet's Natural Flaws
The causes of poor intonation may be inadequate breath support, a poorly formed embouchure, or poor listening habits. However, every instrument has inherent intonation flaws. They are listed below for the clarinet.
Inherent Intonation Flaws
- In general, the lower register tends to go sharp (too high)
- In general, the middle register or "throat tones" of the clarinet also tend to go sharp (too high)
- In general, the upper register tends to go flat (too low)
Intonation is the process of moving from one pitch to another pitch at a specific interval (vertically). Intonation is controlled by one person because it relies on a trained ear and acquired listening skills while playing.
Specific Pitch Tendencies
Memorize this information
Sharp tendencies (too high):
- The throat tones on the clarinet tend to be sharp.
- Although not idiosyncratic, players should be aware that if they pinch in the upper range, this will err to the sharp side.
- Low clarinets will tend to be sharp in the upper range.
Pitch may be lowered through a variety of techniques including:
- Directing the airstream downward
- Slight relaxation of the embouchure to avoid pinching
- Adjusting the amount of reed and mouthpiece in the mouth (pull out)
- Selecting a softer reed
- Barrel adjustments, pull out
- Alternate fingerings
Flat tendencies (too low):
- Low clarinets will tend to be flat in the lower range.
- Except when the student pinches, some notes in the upper range can go flat.
- Flatness is caused by unsupported air, slower air speed, and an ambouchure that is unsupported or too relaxed.
Pitch may be raised through a variety of techniques including:
- Directing the airstream upward
- Better air support
- Slight increase in embouchure firmness
- Adjusting the amount of reed and mouthpiece in the mouth (push in)
- Selecting a harder reed
- Barrel (neck) adjustments, pull out
- Alternate fingerings
Today is tomorrow's yesterday.
Get more familiar with your instrument and learn who invented it, who composes music for it, and who has mastered the art of playing it.
The word clarinet comes from the Italian word "clarino," used for an older type of high-pitched trumpet. Today the low range of the clarinet is still called the "chalumeau register," because of the low notes of the original chalumeau.
In 1690, the German instrument maker Johann Denner invented the clarinet by transformaing the double reed "chalumeau" (shall-you-mo) into a single-reed instrument. Since the chalumeau could only play notes in a low range, he added a "register key" to allow his new instrument to play higher notes.
By the 1840's, two French instrument makers named Klose and Buffet had created a clarinet fingering system modeled after the flute key system designed by Boehm. Nearly all clarinets today are made with the Boehm system.
The clarinet family includes the Bb Clarinet, the A Clarinet (used in some orchestra music), the Bb Bass Clarinet, the Eb Soprano and Alto Clarinets, the Eb Contrabass Clarinet and Bb Contrabass Clarinet. Fingerings are virtually the same for all clarinets, making it possible for a clarinetist to play any of the instruments. As one of the primary instruments in the sound of a concert band, clarinets play melodies, harmonies, and solos.
IV. Composers & Performers
Mozart, Brahms, Weber, Bartok, and Hindemith are among the important composers who have featured clarinets in their writing. Some Famous Clarinet Players
Units of Study
Building skill. Developing technique.
Learn about intonation, pitch control, care & maintenance, etc.