The clarinet is a woodwind instruments with one of the largest pitch ranges. It is a cylindrical instrument that can be made out of plastic, composite, or wood. There are multiple instruments in the clarinet family pitched in different keys which include, but are not limited to, the soprano B-flat, E-flat, and bass clarinets. The following is a beginner’s guide to how to play the clarinet, which describes what you need to do to begin, the parts of the instrument, assembly and disassembly, and how to take care of the instrument. This blog will also describe how to start producing a sound on the instrument and accessories you need to begin your musical journey.
Get an instrument. If you have just started the clarinet and want to learn how to play it, the first step is to buy your own instrument. School programs and local music stores make it possible to rent an instrument for a reasonable price. One example of a shop that provides quality, affordable rentals can be found here.
- For beginners, it is better to purchase a good instrument. While plastic models are indestructible for young students, they do not last very long. There are different clarinets that are a composite of wood and plastic that produce a good sound. It is important for beginner students to have an instrument that works well in the beginning to avoid any frustrations they would encounter with low-quality instruments.
- Try different instruments. There are many different clarinet brands, that, at times, may make it seem difficult to choose. Avoid purchasing clarinets from an unknown brand since they are generally of poor quality. If a new instrument is not within your budget, learn more about how to choose a used clarinet here.
Learn the names of the parts. The clarinet is comprised of five parts: the mouthpiece, barrel, upper joint, lower joint, and bell. Each part is fitted and aligned to one another in this order by four cork-covered tenons that hold the five parts of the clarinet tightly together. If you want to find out what each part of the clarinet does, you can find more information here.
Learn how to assemble the clarinet. After learning the names of the clarinet parts, it is important to know how to assemble the instrument. Start from the bottom to the top. It is important for beginners to learn how to properly put the clarinet together to avoid bent keys.
- First take the bottom joint of the clarinet and attach it to the bell.
- Take the top joint of the clarinet and assemble it to the bottom joint.
- Assemble the barrel on top of the first joint.
- The last part of assembly includes the mouthpiece, reed, and ligature. Make sure to wet the reed before assembly.
Learn the proper hand position and angle for the clarinet. The clarinet should be angled at a 45-degree angle from your body. Make sure to keep your head and back straight when playing. This will help with your hand position and how to hold the instrument to avoid unnecessary hand and arm injuries.
- First, take your right hand and lay it relaxed at your side. Afterwards, place your right hand on the lower part of the joint. Make sure that the thumb is placed under the thumb rest. The pointer finger should be placed on key 1, middle finger on key 2, and the ring finger on key 3. The pinky should rest comfortably on the ‘f’ key.
- Follow the same process with your left hand for the upper joint. The thumb should be placed on the thumb hole, pointer finger on key 1, middle finger on key 2, ring finger on the key 3, and the pinky finger resting comfortably on the ‘c#’ key.
- While playing, make sure that your fingers are close to the tone holes so that you can get to them easier. If the fingers are too far from the clarinet, it makes it difficult to play fast and technical passages.
After playing, disassemble and clean the clarinet after each use. To disassemble a clarinet, work from the top to the bottom. Be sure to place all of the parts in your clarinet case.
- Take the ligature and the reed off the mouthpiece.
- Remove the mouthpiece from the barrel.
- Disassemble the top joint from the bottom joint of the clarinet.
- Detach the bell from the bottom joint.
As musicians, we always need to take preventive measures to make sure that our instruments are in top shape. Making sure that we keep our instrument clean helps reduce the number of repairs. The following are steps to cleaning a clarinet:
- Make sure to swab the entire clarinet while it is assembled.
- Swab each piece of the clarinet after disassembly.
- Wipe any moisture off all the tenons after playing.
- Clean your mouthpiece occasionally.
- Polish keys after use.
- Place each part of the clarinet back in its case.
Learn some notes! Now that you know all the parts of the clarinet, how to assemble and disassemble it, and clean it…now you can learn how to play it!
Develop your clarinet embouchure. Having a good embouchure is important to producing a beautiful sound on the clarinet. A bad embouchure can have a negative effect on your sound, along with other technical aspects of playing. The difficult part about teaching clarinet embouchure is that everyone has different sized lips, cavities, and teeth. It is important to remember these differences and to adapt your explanation according to the student’s physical characteristics. The following are things to consider in developing a clarinet embouchure. It will be useful to use a mirror while teaching this to students so that they are able to understand which muscles are active and inactive in a clarinet embouchure. You can learn more about the process here.
Fast column of air through the instrument and make sure that there is no air in the cheeks. Try using a coffee straw and blow fast air through it. Take your right hand and place it in front of the other end to check the quality of the air pressure. If you do not feel any type of air pressure, then the air is dull and not going fast enough through the straw. After doing this, try it with the clarinet!
Make a sound and play some notes. Before playing, make sure that the reed is moist. This allows the reed to vibrate freely when you play the clarinet. For beginners, it is important to focus on making a clear and full sound. A good exercise to help develop your clarinet sound is to play whole notes chromatically from the lowest note on the clarinet to the highest note with the quarter note = 60. This allows you to develop an evenness and fullness of sound in all of the registers.
Now that you are able to make a sound on the clarinet, here are a couple of useful accessories that will help you in your learning process.
Clarinet Fingering Chart. Your local music store should sell different kinds of beginner books that have a fingering chart in the index. There are also online applications that you can download on your device that also play the pitches of the notes that you are learning with the fingering chart.
Method books and developing a routine. For beginners, the most effect beginner methods are L’ABC du jeune clarinettiste Vol. 1 and 2 by Guy Dangain, that allows beginners to develop a strong technical foundation. The most comprehensive clarinet method book is the Klose Conservatory Method for the Clarinet as it also includes mechanism exercises, scales, and arpeggios. Develop a practicing plan that includes scales and arpeggios. This will help you to develop your technique and give you the musical foundation to learn repertoire.
Learn repertoire. Learn pieces that you are familiar with and enjoy. There is a wide variety of popular music arrangements available that are not too difficult to play. This will help you develop the confidence to be able to perform more challenging repertoire. Individual lessons are recommended if you want to learn the standard repertoire for the clarinet.
Join a community band or orchestra. Community ensembles are always a great way to get involved in music and to meet new people. If you are still in school, join your school band or youth orchestra. This will give you an opportunity to perform with other individuals who are passionate about music.
With all this information, you now have the tools you need to begin playing the clarinet, and perhaps with some help from a teacher to guide the way, you will be ready to embark on your musical journey!