Last week, we explored the Flute and saw that it is a woodwind instrument, but it’s not what we think of when we picture one. For most people, the first image that comes to mind is the Clarinet. Those into Rock and Jazz think of the Saxophone. Let’s first look at the Clarinet this week.

The Clarinet is one of the most popular choices for beginning instrumentalists.

Most beginners can get a sound out right away, and then can quickly play a simple tune like Hot Cross Buns.

It is not nearly as heavy as an Alto Saxophone (which I’ll get into next week), yet it is longer in length than people initially think.

In a Concert Band setting, the clarinet section tends to play melodies and some harmonies in Beginning Band arrangements.

The range of the Clarinet is tremendous, and depending upon the performer, can encompass almost four octaves!

Many beginning instrumentalists who want to play Saxophone are steered towards the Clarinet, and for good reason. Some of the best Saxophonists (classical and jazz) started off on Clarinet.

The Clarinet requires a firm embouchure (facial setting) and excellent fingering coordination. The upper range of the Clarinet uses the same fingerings as the Saxophone, so the transition (or addition) later on is much simpler.

Here’s a classic YouTube video of Leonard Bernstein conducting the NY Philharmonic performance of Rhapsody in Blue. This piece starts with the famous clarinet solo that features many exciting performance techniques…


Here’s Eddie Daniels, world famous Jazz Clarinetist playing “Stompin at the Savoy”:


The Bass Clarinet is another option for beginning students.

The instrument is very large, in fact the mouthpiece is larger than the Tenor Sax mouthpiece. It is supported by a peg that rests on the floor. (Your right thumb doesn’t hold the weight of the instrument.)

The fingerings are exactly the same as the Clarinet. There are only a few pinholes to cover: no big holes to be covered.

Since it is a large instrument and produces very low sounds, Bass Clarinet parts cover bass lines in Concert Band settings for Beginner Band music.

Here is a YouTube video of a transcription of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 for Bass Clarinet:


Advantages to Playing the Clarinet

  1. Fairly easy to produce a sound.
  2. The instrument is a lot lighter to hold than the Saxophone.
  3. The Clarinet has an extensive range.
  4. The Clarinet has a prominent role in Concert Bands and Orchestras.
  5. The Clarinet has been around for a very long time (since c. 1700), and contains an extensive solo and chamber music repertoire.
  6. Clarinet is also in Jazz Big Bands. (Saxophonists tend to double on Clarinet.)

Points to Consider:

  1. Some students can not tolerate the taste of the wooden reed in their mouth. (This is rare however, but should be considered.) This “weird” taste goes away quickly as the student gets used to the instrument.
  2. If you are not able to securely cover the holes, you will squeak. It is important to completely cover them: use the fleshy part of your fingers (I call them the “pads”) and squeeze into the holes.
  3. The weight of the instrument is on the right thumb (except Bass Clarinet). That can feel really heavy to a beginner. I have my students purchase Runyon Thumbsavers, which helps tremendously in the beginning. (You can purchase these at most music stores, or online at Woodwind and Brasswind)
  4. It is vital for the student to assemble the instrument properly; the instrument can break if certain keys are not pressed while assembling.  It is important for the student to follow the teacher’s directions very carefully with regard to this.
  5. Reeds are very fragile; never touch the tip! As a beginner, you will probably break 3 or 4 reeds until you get used to treating them correctly.
  6. With the Clarinet and Bass Clarinet, you must buy boxes of reeds on a consistent basis, depending upon the amount of time you practice. Clarinet reed boxes usually contain 10 reeds per box (around $15-$20), while Bass Clarinet reeds come in 5 per box for a little less money. I recommend Rico Royal Strength 2 to start for both.

Action Points:

  1. Do some more research on Clarinet performance on YouTube or iTunes to see if you like the sound of the instrument.  Some great Classical soloists are Stanley Drucker and Richard Stolzman. Some great Jazz Clarinetists are Benny Goodman and Charlie Daniels.
  2. If you like playing bass lines, consider the Bass Clarinet and research some more videos on YouTube.
  3. Write down any thoughts or questions in the Comments below.
  4. If you like what you read, please sign up for my website, Like this on Facebook, Tweet out the link, and spread the word to others who may like this article. Thanks!


Next time, we will look at the Saxophone Family.

Til then….