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The clarinet is considered one of the most popular instruments today in both traditional and contemporary settings. Since the eighteenth century, there have been many developments made to the clarinet that have made it possible to play an expanded range. As a result, there are many different types of clarinets in the clarinet family. The Bb clarinet, otherwise known as the soprano clarinet in Bb, is one of the most popular instruments in the clarinet family and used widely in different styles and genres. The Eb clarinet is one of the highest pitched of the commonly utilized clarinets.

Each member of the clarinet family has a unique sound and are traditionally used in orchestra, symphonic, marching bands, and chamber ensembles etc. as an ensemble and solo instrument. Most of the modern clarinets today are pitched to Bb and Eb. There is also the A clarinet that is still used and performed in modern orchestras. Read more about the differences between the Bb and Eb clarinet in this week’s guide.

The most obvious difference is the physical size between the two instruments. The Eb clarinet bore is smaller, along with the tone holes, and the chamber of the mouthpiece that have an influence on the timbre and volume of the instrument. While the Eb clarinet looks like a smaller version of the Bb clarinet, the range of the Bb clarinet is larger than the Eb clarinet. 

Both clarinets are pitched in two different keys and have different ranges. The Eb clarinet can play a written high ‘a’ that sounds as a high ‘f’.  The Bb clarinet can play a written high ‘c’ that sounds as a written ‘Bb’.

While both instruments look similar to one another, it is not possible to approach playing both clarinets the same way. The Eb clarinet requires more support and a more highly controlled air stream than the Bb clarinet. Due to its smaller size, the air travels through a small bore that requires a strong embouchure, and great air support. While both instruments require a fast, continuous stream of air to play, since the Eb clarinet is physically smaller, the air that travels through the instrument is smaller.

The Eb clarinet requires a smaller embouchure than the Bb clarinet. The player has to produce a smaller embouchure than what would be needed for the Bb clarinet simply because the mouthpiece is smaller. Long tones are a great exercise to help build embouchure muscles needed to play both instruments. While doing long tones, it would be useful to have a tuner to check for intonation between the registers. If you are just beginning to learn how to play the Eb clarinet, be sure to start out gradually to avoid early fatigue and ‘biting’. Long tones are also useful to help build endurance needed to play the Eb clarinet.

The fingerings for the clarinet are very similar between each of the clarinets with some differences. While the fingerings are almost the same throughout a majority of both instruments, often to play the high altissimo on the Eb clarinet, one has to find false fingerings to play in tune and for fast technical passages. A good way to find good fingerings is to use a tuner while playing long tones. Find two to three fingerings that work on your instrument and then test how they work in a musical context.

The B-flat clarinet is used and performed more widely than the E-flat clarinet. While the E-flat clarinet can be found in symphonic and orchestral repertoire, it is not widely performed in chamber music or as a solo instrument. There are composers now writing for it as a solo instrument. Both of these clarinets are known for their own unique qualities. The more familiar you become with each clarinet, the more you will become familiar with how they look and sound, to the point where you would be able to identify them in recordings. Learning repertoire for the Eb clarinet will also make it possible for you to have more performance opportunities.