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The Clarinet

Updated on August 23, 2013
The clarinet's mellow sound has also made it the solo instrument chosen by many composers.
The clarinet's mellow sound has also made it the solo instrument chosen by many composers.

The clarinet is a popular instrument today. A clarinet is a woodwind instrument. It is shaped like a narrow tube. You play it by blowing in one end through a pointed mouthpiece. The mouthpiece has a thin piece of bamboo called a reed in it.

The clarinet is a single-reeded member of the woodwind family and it was the first reed instrument in which an extensive range of notes over three octaves could be obtained from a cylinder.

There are several members of the clarinet family including the soprano, alto, basset horn, bass and double or contra-bass. They are traditionally made of wood, but today many clarinets are made of special plastic instead. It is cheaper than wood.

History of Clarinet

People have played woodwind instruments for thousand of years. The clarinet developed from an instrument of the early 1600s called the chalumeau, similar to a recorder. This had a reed tied over a large hole in the mouthpiece, it had seven holes and one key for the player to change notes.

The clarinet was derived from the Italian word clarinetto meaning "little trumpet". The clarinet was invented by the German Flute maker Johann Denne in 1690 and was adapted over the years until the German flautist Theobold Boehm devised the clarinet we know today.

You hold a clarinet with two hands, left above right.  You change notes by pressing fingers over holes or against metal keys.
You hold a clarinet with two hands, left above right. You change notes by pressing fingers over holes or against metal keys.

How the Clarinet Works

The holes on a clarinet are either covered by padded keys or left open until covered (stopped) by the player's fingers.

  • Sound is created when a single thin, flat slip of cane (the reed) is made to vibrate by the player blowing through the solid mouthpiece. The reed is pressed against the lower lip, while the player's top teeth bite down on to the mouthpiece.

  • The sound is amplified down the length of the tube, while the pitch of the note is dependent on how many and which holes are covered or left open. We change pitch on a clarinet by covering or uncovering holes. This changes how much air there is inside. The clarinet produces its lowest pitch when all the holes are closed. This is the longest possible length of air it can hold.

  • Clarinet players cover finger holes with their fingertips. They use both fingertips and knuckles to press keys. Each key is attached to a lever. the lever presses a felt pad firmly over a hole, covering it. Springs move the pad off the hole once the key is released. The rings operates as keys. They open or close other holes whenparticular fingering is used.

  • A good mouth position helps to produce a beautiful sound. It can also help you reach very high notes. You fold your lower lip over your lower teeth, bite gently on the mouthpiece, smile slightly and blow! It sounds tricky, but practice can help get it right.

  • Clarinet players should always blow air into the mouthpiece from their lungs, not from puffed-out cheeks. They can blow for longer and play longer notes. When you puff out your cheeks, your lower lip gets floopy. It then vibrates with the reeds as you play. This affects the sound you made.

  • The best way to play a clarinet is to stand or sit up straight. Hold the instrument pointing downwards, about halfway between horizontal and vertical. This position helps you breathe better than if you are slouched.

The Parts of the Clarinet

  1. Mouthpiece - the mouthpiece has a slanted top. A large hole underneath is covered by the reed. A metal or plastic cove protects the reed from damage
  2. Barrel - is the short, fat part after the mouthpiece.
  3. Upper and lower joints have finger holes and keys to change notes. Clarinetists keep their hands in the same position on the instrument as they play.
  4. Keys - the keys allow the clarinet players to play lots of notes without having to shift their hands.
  5. Bell - the bell is the curved piece on the bottom end of the clarinet where the sound comes out. The hole inside is wider than in the barrel.

Learning to play an instrument takes a while but is well worth the effort.

It is a great fun to play in groups of clarinettists.  You can do it by joining a school orchestra or a marching band.  It takes a lot of practice and time to improve on playing the clarinet.
It is a great fun to play in groups of clarinettists. You can do it by joining a school orchestra or a marching band. It takes a lot of practice and time to improve on playing the clarinet.

So you want to play the clarinet?

It is not a difficult instrument to play, of all the wood wind instruments, the clarinet makes the widest range of sounds:

  • It can play low notes and high notes, it sounds range from smooth and gentle to honks and shrieks.

Clarinets are common in marching bands,orchestras, jazz and folk groups but not much in rock music because it is not loud enough to compete with electric instruments usually found in rock band.

Many schools include lessons in their curriculum and the clarinet plays an important role in school orchestra, musical ensemble and marching bands.

Many students hire a clarinet for a short time before buying it. Hiring is cheaper than buying. It gives you the chance to decide whether the clarinet is the right instrument for you. It also lets you try different types of clarinets.

You can also buy secondhand clarinet they are cheaper than new ones. Music teachers can help you choose a beginner's clarinet. They may even recommend a particular type of clarinet.

Make sure that the instrument you choose has a secure case, that will protect it when you carry it around.

Fact File

  • The famous Austrian composer Wolfgang Mozart was the first composer to use the clarinet in a symphony. He believe it was the instrument closest in sound to the human voice.

Julian Bliss plays Mozart clarinet concerto (final movt)

Do you play the clarinet?

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    • profile image

      Brendon Urie 3 years ago

      I had to do a project and this helped

    • profile image

      aliyyah 4 years ago

      it did not help me at all i want the actual home work and how to memorise the notes

    • profile image

      lolyealolyealmaoo 4 years ago

      helped me for my music homework

    • profile image

      abby 5 years ago

      It helped with my assignment. It answered all the questions I needed.

    • profile image

      blip45 5 years ago

      u need more facts on the clarinet

    • profile image

      nadia qureshi 6 years ago

      this was a test

      i got full marks

    • profile image

      asvbaiugvb 6 years ago

      what musical role does the clarinet play? is it meloday or rythym?

    • profile image

      paul 6 years ago

      hi i play the clarinet

    • profile image

      pieface 6 years ago

      how do you change the pitch without changing the notes? Is it possible? I had to do a school report on how instruments change pitch and I was able to find a way to change the pitch without changing the note.

    • profile image

      loz 6 years ago

      thanks this helped me with my assignment a lot !!!

      Thanks again!

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Informative hub - thanks for posting

    • profile image

      Sapletree 7 years ago

      Oh thNks this is very helpful because I'm going to be in band.

    • profile image

      Robo 7 years ago

      that girl is holding wrong the clarinet

    • profile image

      Magnus Dey 7 years ago

      I have some few clarinets in my school but I can't play it.As the music teacher I would like to teach my students.Please help me.

      email address;

    • profile image

      maxine 7 years ago

      i just found my moms old clarinet as she played as a kid it has like 20 notes it can play

    • profile image

      annonomus 8 years ago

      helped me with my homework


    • profile image

      8 years ago

      He is amazing!!!!

    • profile image

      Cherrymuffin 8 years ago

      Absolutly amazing!!!

    • profile image

      ally 8 years ago

      how many notes can a clarinet play?

    • profile image

      Alannah  8 years ago

      i'm in a band and play the clarinet but i haven't played for three years and have forgot most the notes i know c,d and e but what are the rest can you help?

    • profile image

      abby 8 years ago

      what are the notes for the clarinet?(im going to do a band test)

    • white atlantic profile image

      white atlantic 9 years ago from INDIA

      i think it has too much imp in indian traditional music