By: Mary Moore

The Clarinet is a woodwind instrument with a cylindrical bore and a single beating reed. Made in eight different sizes, the Eb soprano is the smallest while the Contra Bass is the largest. Orchestral composers typically write for the Bb Soprano and A Clarinets. Those of us who play the clarinet for orchestras own both instruments since both are used often for different music pieces. The Bb Soprano Clarinet is the most commonly used for all other types of music, such as Band, Jazz and popular music.

ClarinetsFrom the late 17th Century on clarinets were used in Military Bands, and not used in Orchestras. Mozart was the first composer to use Clarinets in orchestra around the 1780’s.

The parts of the instrument including the mouthpiece, upper barrel, lower barrel, and the bell which are fitted together with cork socket connections. In the smallest Eb Clarinet the instrument is made in one piece in addition to the mouthpiece and bell.

The mouthpiece is tapered on the top to fit into the players mouth while the underside has a slot over which the reed vibrates held in place by a ligature. The barrel is used for tuning, by either pushing in or pulling out.

clarinetThe upper and lower joints are the major part of the bore and carry the finger holes and key work. The Clarinet is the only completely open holed instrument, meaning the fingers cover the 6 open holes, and the little fingers of each hand operate the keys. Weight of the instrument is supported by the right thumb, which fits under the thumb rest on the lower section.

bundy-clarinetClarinets are made from Granadilla, or African black wood with silver or nickel keys, however some student instruments are made from plastic or ebonite. The clarinet is pitched based on the length of the instrument. Clarinets pitched in Bb, including the Bb soprano the most widely used, sound one note higher than concert pitch, and those pitched in Eb sound a 3rd higher or a 5th lower than concert pitch. When the Octave key (register key) is pressed the pitch jumps a 12th instead of an octave; all other woodwind instruments jump an octave. Clarinets play three and one half octaves, a very large range. The three registers are, chalumeau (named after a sister instrument in use before the clarinet as we know it today), the middle register known as the clarion ( meaning clear, this is where the Clarinet gets its name), and the altissimo register, which is the very high register.

Clarinet-ResourcesEarliest known records of the invention of the Clarinet give Jocob Christoph Denner of Nuremberg as the inventor in 1710. Over the years, keys have been added and the mechanism revised. The Albert 13 key system came into use in in the early 19th century, and the Boehm system, a revised system of clarinet keywork, developed in 1839, coming into poplar use about 1870. The Albert system has been largely replaced by the Boehm system, however there are still a few being used.

The clarinet is known for its beautiful clear tone. Orchestral and band musicians seldom use vibrato to color their tone. Vibrato is mainly used by the jazz or popular music musician. One myth that haunts the Clarinet is the occasional squeak which is actually an overtone.

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