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How to play the clarinet – here's what you need to know!

Updated: Aug 15, 2022

The clarinet became popular thanks to the composition of “Peter and the Wolf”, in which it plays the part of the purring cat. Are you currently contemplating whether you would like to become a clarinet player yourself? If so, you might have some questions before making up your mind. That's why we are answering a number of interesting and relevant questions that you might ask yourself if you are a beginner.

Die Klarinette
The clarinet – a fascinating instrument

Is there just one kind of clarinet?

In general, when people talk about “the clarinet”, they are referring to the B-flat clarinet. However, apart from this very common clarinet, there are three other sizes. In classical music, there is also the A clarinet which is tuned a semitone lower. Another clarinet worth mentioning is the bass clarinet, which was common in the Romantic period. Starting in the late Romantic era, the E-flat clarinet (also known as the high clarinet) becomes popular. When speaking of these note indications, we are referring to the so-called concert pitch, meaning the note according to which the instrument is tuned. This is particularly important when playing in an orchestra or alongside other instruments. You agree on a pitch before each player picks up the note according to which their instrument is tuned. Moreover, the various clarinets are all different in size, with the bass clarinet naturally being the largest one among them.

Should I start with a specific clarinet?

As with flutes, you decide at the beginning on the type of clarinet you want to learn, and then you usually stick to that choice. A lot of students opt for the B-flat clarinet because it is widely used in orchestras and similar ensembles. However, you are free to pick any other type of clarinet as well.

What material are clarinets made of?

A clarinet is made of up to five parts, which are taken apart again every time you are done playing. The more expensive models have a body made of dark grenadilla wood, while less expensive alternatives consist of black plastic, metal, or even acrylic glass. However, we recommend that you stay away from such cheap models because you don't only lose haptics and a good playing experience, but also sacrifice quality in terms of sound. The keys are made of either nickel-plated or silver-plated brass, depending on the manufacturer.

Is the mouthpiece of a clarinet really something special?

Indeed! A very fine cork is used to seal the top, and the mouthpiece itself features a so-called reed, which is also made of wood, in order to blow on it. Usually, a cane plant called Arundo Donax, which grows near the sea, is used to make this reed. Before being processed, the reed is dried for about 2 years. However, once processed, you can't use it for playing unless you soak it in water. For this purpose, most clarinet players keep some water in a small container next to them. Double reeds are usually soaked completely, while single reeds are moistened for a considerably shorter period of time.

Due to the natural material of the clarinet and the mouthpiece's reed, the instrument changes during playing and usually needs to be tuned again after a few minutes, as is the case with many other woodwind instruments.

Klarinette aus der Familie der Flöten

At what age can my child learn to play the clarinet?

The age range is usually around 7 to 8 years old. Of course, every child is different, and it may be possible to start a little earlier. Nevertheless, many clarinet teachers advise that the two upper incisors should be completely grown back since they provide support while playing. Furthermore, your child should be able to hold the clarinet which weighs between 700 and 800 grams. Although this may not seem very heavy, it is important for your child to maintain good posture and due to the length of the instrument, the weight becomes straining with time.

How much should I pay for a clarinet?

The answer to this question will probably be a little alarming to parents whose children want to learn the clarinet, seeing as a new instrument made of wood starts at around 1,300 CHF, and the sky's the limit. This means purchasing a clarinet can easily cost between 5,000 and 7,000 CHF. However, these instruments are very durable and don't require a lot of repairs.

Do I have to get my own clarinet right away?

Here's the good news: You don't have to buy your own clarinet right away. Just talk to your teacher who can tell you where you can rent a clarinet which allows you to start playing immediately without having to make your decision straight away. Moreover, rental fees that have already been paid are often taken into account if you decide to purchase the instrument at a later date.

Which genres of music are best suited for the clarinet?

Due to its versatility, the clarinet can also be played in a rock and pop band with a little practice. However, the clarinet is best suited for jazz and classical music, meaning that many clarinet players are part of an orchestra or a jazz band.

Is it possible to play a solo with a clarinet?

Of course! There are really beautiful pieces for clarinet solos. “Peter and the Wolf” is just one of them.

Which pitch range can I play with a clarinet?

The clarinet has a very wide range that spans three octaves. However, you have to be careful when playing, because the clarinet is a so-called transposing instrument, meaning that if you play a C, a B will sound. This is particularly important when playing in ensembles, orchestras, and bands that include instruments tuned to C. In this case, your instrument sounds a semitone lower than you actually play it. Usually, the sheet music for the clarinet is transcribed in a different way, so that you don't have to adjust the semitone every time you play.

Klarinette Detail

Do I need any previous knowledge to learn how to play the clarinet?

Your teacher can teach you everything you need to know about playing the clarinet. Obviously, there is no harm in already having some knowledge regarding music theory. But even if you don’t, all you need is a little patience.

What are the most important factors when playing the clarinet?

As with any other instrument, you should pay special attention to a few aspects of the clarinet and invest the time to learn them properly. It is better to practice a little more thoroughly in order to be successful in the long run.

  • the embouchure: The mouthpiece must be positioned in the player's mouth in a very specific way in order to hold it in place. This requires a fair amount of tension that needs to be applied in specific areas of the mouth and chin, which takes a lot of practice. If you don't want to keep the instrument in your hand all the time, you can start by practicing with the mouthpiece only. Once you are able to produce the typical clarinet sound with the mouthpiece, you are ready to play your first notes.

  • the breathing: In order to produce a beautiful tone that is clearly audible, you need a steady flow of air. Ideally, you should have already mastered abdominal breathing. Furthermore, you need to control the airflow as well as your breathing through your mouth while playing the clarinet. In case you are among the many people who breathe primarily into their chest, we recommend that you prepare by lying flat on your back on a firm surface. Rest your hand on your abdomen and inhale deeply. Breathe in and out through your mouth evenly. You will eventually do this naturally as soon as you pick up your clarinet.

  • the posture: You might have guessed by now that the clarinet requires its player to be physically engaged. A factor that actually applies to most woodwind instruments. Therefore, you should always practice standing up when beginning to learn this instrument. In fact, the majority of teachers conduct their lessons in this manner as well. This approach enables you to control your breathing better as long as you ensure to keep your back straight. If you decide to practice in a seated position, or if you are part of an orchestra or a band, you should make sure to sit on the very edge of your chair, almost as if you plan to stand up.

  • the fingerings: The clarinet comes with a fingering chart which should be memorized as soon as possible. You can keep this chart next to your sheet music upon starting with your first lessons. However, it will soon become obvious that doing so will be quite tedious. Thus, it is a good idea to commit the fingering chart to memory, so you are ready to go.

  • the notes: In order to play the clarinet smoothly, you'll need to learn how to read sheet music. But there's no need to worry, it's easier than you might think, seeing as your knowledge will develop over time until it's second nature to you.

  • patience: Apart from all these technical skills, you will need to be patient in order to be able to play the clarinet well since it can take some time to produce beautiful sounds. Children, in particular, need constant motivation and it is important not to frustrate them during each practice session. Instead, parents should ensure that their children always experience a sense of achievement. Moreover, the assembly and disassembly of your instrument require a bit of patience as well since the clarinet should be cleaned thoroughly after each time it is played in order to preserve the material as long as possible. In this context, good cleaning equipment is a great investment. Furthermore, you require steady hands when assembling your instrument to make sure that the individual components are firmly connected without them being plugged too tight.

Do you have any further questions?

Are you still undecided whether the clarinet is really the right instrument for you? If so, don't hesitate to contact one of our teachers. You can simply get in touch to get an overview of whether the clarinet is the right instrument for you.


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