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Clarinets: A beginner's guide

Updated on May 12, 2013

Introduction to the E flat Clarinet

This clarinet is the smallest out of the standard clarinets and is typically one third shorter than its B flat and A siblings. Fingering is the same as the B flat but a little narrower. A sharp shrill is produced which sets it apart from other clarinets. Since it is less in demand it generally tends to be dearer due to a smaller number being produced. There is one particularly good value E flat clarinet on the market under the brand name Paolo Mark.

Now that you have a clarinet, the next step is to start learning how to play. How does one go about this? Well one option is to find a teacher. The best way to do this would be to check noticeboards in your community or try contacting some large music schools in your city. Alternatively one might not want the expense of a private tutor. In this case it is possible to teach yourself to a certain extent with some guidance online.

B Flat Clarinet
B Flat Clarinet

Introduction to the Clarinet in B Flat

The B flat Clarinet is often looked upon as the normal clarinet. Itself and the A flat are by far the most common. Some may call the B flat the "soprano clarinet" For jazz and wind orchestra, the B flat prevails. It is a very versatile instrument with a large range, a great variety of timbres available, and an ease of play that allows very fast fingering and great expressivity. Affordable B flat clarinets are hard to come by, but Paolo Mark do an excellent starter clarinet in Bb.

Quality Clarinets
Quality Clarinets

Clarinet in E Flat

Affordable E Flat Clarinets

Perhaps you are already a keen clarinettist or thinking about learning a new instrument. Similarly you could be a parent who would like their son or daughter to be able to play a musical instrument. Why not entice them to play the clarinet? One day they could very well be part of an orchestra, marching band or clarinet choir.

Being able to play the clarinet will set them apart from the crowd and bring a myriad of advantages. Firstly, listen to some solo clarinet and with accompanying instruments such as the piano. Once you've decided it sounds nice the next step is to decide on "which particular clarinet to choose "since there are more than a dozen types. The B flat is by far the most common type. Another popular one is the E flat which is smaller in size and higher in pitch than the more common B flat clarinet. It plays a particularly central role in clarinet choirs, carrying the high melodies that would be impossible for the B and D clarinets. Scope for playing solo with the E flat is limited. Most of the time it is required to play at the top of its range to take full advantage of its piercing sound. It has a bright, shrill sound very similar to the sound of the piccolo. As a result of this it is usually played by only one musician in a typical concert band.

Most clarinets of the E flat variant are built and aimed at professional or advanced students. The Paolo Mark E flat clarinet is an exception in that less experienced players can easily adapt to its simple design.


Choosing a Clarinet Reed

The clarinet reed is attached to the mouthpiece by the ligature and the top half of this is positioned in the player's mouth. It is on the underside of the mouthpiece. The choice and quality of the reed will dictate whether your clarinet playing becomes successful or an uphill battle. The vast majority of reeds are highly inconsistent. It may take one or two incorrect purchases before you find one that suits you.

Selection should be based on your skill level. For Beginners "Rico" is a popular brand but the downside is that the quality is poor. Alternative and similar products in the beginner category can be found in online shops.

In the intermediate category Mitchell Lurie or Rico Royal are two popular reeds. Finally for advanced players the Vandoren V-12 and Olivieri are renowned amongst the elite. One must bear in mind that a breaking in period is required to enable them produce a nice sound.

Reed strength is another feature to consider when making a purchase. Typical strengths range from 3-1/2 and denotes a resistance to incoming air from the mouthpiece. Again it might be necessary to experiment with different strengths to find which suits your style best. Generally a beginner would start with a thinner reed and more experienced musicians would tend to use a thicker strength reed. the strength of a reed needed also depends on the instrument. For example a 2.5 strength reed may be suitable for an experienced Bb clarinet musician.

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