The clarinet is a very versatile reed instrument, used in both chamber and orchestral music. It was Mozart’s favourite, and like the saxophone produced many great jazz players such as Sidney Bechet and Benny Goodman.
There are many different types of clarinet, but the Bflat soprano clarinet is by far the most common.
Cheaper clarinets are made from man made materials and are generally the best choice for beginners – more expensive models are made from hardwoods like ebony, and are suitable for more serious playing.
As a beginner’s instrument it is both quieter and less costly than the saxophone, and although the fingering is a little more complex, it is easier to produce a basic sound with. It is also lighter and more portable as the instrument separates into five smaller sections to pack away.
As with the saxophone, there are special reeds for the clarinet, and the same advice is applicable to this instrument. You will also need cork grease to connect the joints of the clarinet together..
What to look for
- The cheaper models are made of plastic or ABS resin which doesn't crack, requires less maintenance and is lighter which makes them more suitable for children.
- Wooden models normally sound richer, darker and warmer.
- The key mechanism should be nice and smooth, it should not rattle and should make a good seal with the toneholes.
- When trying out different clarinets it is advisable to use the same mouthpiece and reed, otherwise the different sounds may just be due to the different mouthpieces.
- For smaller children, there are straps available that will help reduce the weight of the instrument and can reduce any chance of repetitive strain injury.
- When purchasing the instrument, you need to purchase appropriate cleaning materials. Some clarinet keys have pads to seal the holes, these need to be looked after. A cleaning swab should be used to dry out the instrument and prolong pad life.
- Quality clarinets have undercut toneholes.