The clarinet is a reed instrument, which means the student will need a regular supply of reeds as these are consumable items. To begin with students will use a soft reed (strength 1½) but after a few months they may start to use strengths 2 or even 2½.
The sound of the clarinet is generated by the vibration of the reed against the mouthpiece, many hundreds of times a second, in a similar way to putting a blade of thick grass between your thumbs to make a ‘duck call’ or squawking sound!
By pressing the fingers down on the keys, the effective length of the tube is made longer and the notes get lower. After a while, new students will start to use their little fingers to extend the range further.
The clarinet can be quite a heavy feeling instrument for beginners, but for very young children there is a plastic Clarineo, which is light and robust, but has similar key patterns to the full sized instrument. The acoustic design of the Clarineo was made by my father in the 1980s, but I have no financial interest in the instrument or the manufacturer.
The clarinet is fairly easy to maintain; with regular cleaning and careful handling a beginner clarinet can suit a student right up to the advanced grades (6 to 8).
Beginner clarinet students will be supplied with a tutor book and CD by me at a reduced cost.
Where can I buy a clarinet?
There are several reputable music shops in the country, and they all have a web presence. I would strongly recommend that you don’t buy an instrument online unless from a reputable shop (contact me directly for further advice). General speaking, if an instrument looks too cheap, it’s for a reason…
What about hiring?
Most music shops operate a hire and buy system, which has the advantage that you may return the instrument after a certain time if you or your child find it’s not the right instrument. I also have a limited supply of instruments for hire in schools for the first year of study only.
How quickly can I become really good at the clarinet?
There is no short cut to success in learning any instrument; regular practise is the best guarantee of success. As an approximate rule of thumb, most younger students can manage an exam grade every 2 or 3 school terms with practice, but some take longer than others. I will always work at the speed of the student.
How easy is the clarinet compared to other instruments?
All musical instruments are equally easy or hard to learn to play well. The clarinet is popular because of its apparent similarity to the recorder, but resistance from the reed makes it harder to blow in comparison, although to begin with the student would use softer reeds. It still requires several years of study and practise to be able to play to a high standard.
What about other clarinets, and saxophones?
The B flat clarinet (the commonest clarinet) is part of a family of clarinets which includes the smaller E flat clarinet, the slightly larger A clarinet, and the B flat bass clarinet, which is twice the size of the B flat. The fingering patterns for these instruments are almost completely similar and the music is read in the same way for each instrument.
Advanced clarinettists usually find themselves playing the saxophone, particularly in shows where, as ‘reed’ players they may play several different clarinets, saxophones and possibly other woodwind instruments too. Many of my own advanced students play clarinets, saxophones and flutes to a high standard.
What does it mean by B flat clarinet?
Due to the different sizes of clarinets, notes played on one instrument will not sound at the same pitch as notes played on another. The piano, and many orchestral instruments, are at what we call ‘concert pitch’. When a B flat instrument plays the fingered note C, it sounds at concert B flat. The player doesn’t need to worry about this; music for the clarinet is arranged (or ‘transposed’) into a different key so that it plays back at the correct pitch against other concert pitch instruments, such as the piano.