What is a Clarinet?

What is a clarinet, and why should anyone want to play the one? If your impression of the instrument is that it looks like those recorders you had to play in grade school, and it sounds too much like sick birds squawking, then you need to rethink your ideas.

Things you need to know about the Clarinet

Definition

The clarinet is a single-reed member of the woodwind family of instruments. It has four body parts, a reed, and a ligature – the piece that holds the reed in place. The instrumentis a member of the clarinet family – a group of similar instruments including the piccolo, the soprano, the alto, the bass, and the contrabass clarinets, and the basset horn.

Construction

While some student models may be made of plastic, better models of clarinets are primarily made of Grenadilla or African Blackwood (same thing, different names). Manufacturers like this wood for instruments because it is easy to use in the manufacturing process, there is less waste, and this wood does not tend to crack easily, as other woods do.

Name

Where did they get the name “clarinet” from? The word comes from the Italian word “clarinetto” which means “little trumpet.” Why name a woodwind instrument after the trumpet, a brass instrument? From a distance the sound of the instrument was similar to the sound of a trumpet.

Sound

What does a clarinet sound like? “Squeaks” is not the right answer! The instrument has a rich sound throughout all its registers, meaning it has a nice sound whether it is playing low notes, high notes, or the notes in between. Some have said that the sound is sweet and expressive, “emotion melted in love.” (Chr. Fr. D. Schubart)

The instrument’s sound is made by vibrations of the reed against the mouthpiece. The player inserts the end of the mouthpiece and reed into his mouth. As the player blows air, the reed vibrates against the mouthpiece and produces the sound.

Registers

The clarinet is the only instrument which has a specific name for each of its different registers.

      Lowest Register – Claumeau (based on an early version of the instrument which only produced good sound in the low notes.

      Middle Register – Clarion or Clarino (contains the “throat tones” – G, G♯, A♭, A, B♭)

      Highest Register – Altissimo (extremely high)

Important Dates in the Life History of the Clarinet

  • 3000 B.C. – Memet or Chalumeau in use in ancient Egypt
  • 1690 – marks the “invention” of the clarinet
  • 1716 – earliest known written music for the instrument
  • 1720 – addition of a short bell to the bottom of the instrument
  • 1780 – by this time the instrument was in use in most large orchestras
  • 1800-1850 – development of the “modern” clarinet – like the ones we see in use today
  • 1812 – improved keypads which caused less air leaks and fewer squeaks; 13 keys on the instrument
  • 1843 – Boehm key system (similar to the one designed for flutes) adapted for the instrument; made fingering much easier

Important People in the Development of the Clarinet

People involved in the development of the instrument

  • Johann Christoph Denner – credited with the invention of the instrument, added two keys, which increased the range by over two octaves, improved the mouthpiece, improved the shape of the bell
  • Hyacinth Klosé – created a model of the instrument called Klosé-Buffet still widely used today, with 17 keys
  • Theobald Boehm – German mathematician and flute maker, discovered the perfect arrangement of tone holes for the instrument.
  • Estienne Roger of Amsterdam – music publisher, published earliest known music for clarinet
  • Auguste Buffet – added the “needle springs” to the instrument’s key system, helped to patent the Boehm system for the clarinet
  • Iwan Müller – clarinet player, developed leak-proof keypads, changed playing position of reed so it rested on the lower lip
  • Adolfe Sax – inventor of the saxophone, did work on improving bass clarinets

Early composers who wrote music for the clarinet

  • J. C. Bach – first composer to introduce the instrument to the London music scene
  • Antonio Vivaldi – wrote three concertos for clarinet around the 1730s
  • Georg Friedrich Handel – Along with Vivaldi, wrote some of the first music to use this instrument
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – composed several challenging pieces for this instrument

Interesting Information about the Clarinet

  • The clarinet was the last instrument to be included in a standard symphony orchestra.
  • The Baroque-era instrument was made so either hand could be in the lower position.
  • The most popular clarinet today is tuned in B♭. That means that the notes sound one step lower than the notes that are written. In order to play a “concert B♭,” a B-flat instrument must play a C.
  • This is the only beginning woodwind instrument whose keys do not cover the entire hole. The main reason clarinets squeak is because air leaks from the hole.
  • Clarinet reeds are rated in terms of strength: 1-5. The lower the number, the softer the reed. Most beginners start with a #2 reed.
  • The most famous period for this instrument was the big band jazz era – the 1940s.
  • George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” is one of the most popular solos for the instrument.

Looking for more information about this fascinating instrument? Check these sites.

https://www.vsl.co.at/en/Clarinet_in_Bb/History

http://www.1st-clarinet-music.com/Articles/clarinet-sound.htm

https://www.niu.edu/gbarrett/resources/history.shtml

https://www.Britannica.com/art/clarinet

Want to read about different instruments? Check out our posts about other instruments.

Sing with your Child – It will be good for both of you!

Looking for a great way to introduce your child to music? Searching for an easy way to get your child interested in music? I’ve got a great idea for you! Not only is it easy, it’s free! Can’t get much better than that!

The easiest way to introduce your child to music is to sing. That’s it! Just sing! Sing with your child. Sing to your child. You can sing about anything. Sing about what you are doing. Make up songs about picking up the toys. Sing about getting up in the morning. Just sing!

Here are some reasons why you should sing with and to your child.

Singing with your child is fun!

Music makes most anything better, so use some songs to go through your day. Sing when it is time to wake your child in the morning. Sing about her clothes when she is getting dressed. Make up a song about what you are going to do that day. Sing silly songs together. Make a game with your songs. Let your child sing an answer back to you. Just have fun!

Singing with your child is easy!

Just take your sentences and set them to some little tune. Use a melody you already know, or just make one up. You aren’t looking for highly refined music here, just little tunes. Make them up as you go along. Even if you only use a couple different notes, you can still sing a little song about what you are doing or thinking.

Singing with your child takes no great skills!

Singing with your child does not take great skills or practice. Remember, you are doing this for fun. It’s not necessary to have a great voice, or great vocal skills. So, enjoy! We talk to our kids without worrying about being great orators; we should sing with them without concern for our vocal qualities. Just have fun!

Singing with your child is free!

What’s better than free? You don’t have to invest in materials or lessons to sing with your child. No cost involved! Sing songs you remember from your childhood. Sing songs you have heard. Make up your own songs. Find silly kid’s songs at the library, or on your favorite streaming service. Sing them together. Make up your own words to some songs you already know.

Singing with your child will benefit both of you.

  • Bonding
  • Cognitive skills
  • Communication (Language skills)
  • Musical Sense

Your child will learn some basic things about music.

  • Pitch differentiation
  • Music is a form of communication
  • You can have fun with music
  • Music is for anyone, anytime, anywhere, not just for professionals.

Here are some links to other sources showing that singing with your child is beneficial:

So, go forth, sing together, and have fun!

Sing with your Child!

Beginning Music Lessons – A Parent’s Survival Guide

Has your child just started beginning music lessons? Let me guess – you were all excited for your child to start music lessons. Your child was excited, the instrument was great, the music books were captivating…and then your child came home to practice. And the sound is driving you crazy! This wasn’t what you signed up for! How can that lovely instrument produce these horrible sounds? Or maybe you are wondering how your child can play so many wrong notes! Perhaps the incorrect rhythm is grating on your nerves! Relax. Give them time. Your child will improve.

But in the meantime, here are a few ideas to help you handle the sounds of beginning music lessons.

        Positive Attitude/Smile

        Patience

        Perseverance

        And Perhaps, Ear Plugs

Have a positive attitude!

Smile! Your child will get better with practice, I promise! He will learn to produce a better sound. She will learn to play in tune with herself. He will start to count the rhythm correctly. She will play more right notes than wrong ones.

How you can help:

Encourage your child to keep practicing. Praise any progress he makes. Don’t complain about the awful sound, or the wrong notes. Don’t tell all the relatives about your child’s problems with his instrument. Smile and make them continue to practice. Take your child to concerts and recitals to inspire him. Let her talk to more advanced musicians who can encourage her to keep practicing. Smile!

Be patient! And realistic.

Most students will not be playing at an advanced level after their first few beginning music lessons. Give them time to learn! Just like any other skill set, music takes time and effort to learn and do well. Give them time! Some day they will be able to practice on their own. Sooner or later they will remember to take all their music with them to their lessons. But until that time they will need some help from you.

How you can help:

Smile! Encourage them to keep practicing. Make a recording of your child after the first couple weeks of practice, and then again after a few months. Play the recordings to them so they (and you) can see how they have improved. Make this a regular practice. Celebrate milestones – finishing a book, learning all the fingerings, getting a great sound, the first concert or recital, etc. Sit with them while they practice. Establish a practice routine. Help them keep all their music and supplies organized and together.

Persevere!

Don’t let quitting be an option! (Or at least not for the first year). Especially, don’t have them quit because you don’t want to listen to them practice! You will soon get beyond the sound of beginning music lessons. Things will get better! Practice will not always be their top priority. There will be times you will have to “force” your child to practice. But that’s ok. You “force” them to do their homework, to brush their teeth, just add music practice to the list.

How you can help: 

Smile! And insist that they practice. Don’t let them argue about it with you. Just make it part of the daily routine. Set reasonable goals and give rewards when those goals are met. (Work with your child’s teacher for some mutual goals.)

Perhaps Ear Plugs!

Let’s be real here – it is not always pleasant or enjoyable to listen to students practice, especially beginners! You may think the poor tone quality is going to drive you crazy. Or the mistakes. Or the intonation issues. So, put in some ear plugs to keep you from constantly commenting on (criticizing?) their playing. Or go for a walk! (providing your child is old enough to be home alone, or that someone else is home with him!) I have done that! When I couldn’t stand the mistakes, and couldn’t constantly correct my child about the same mistakes, I just walked out the door and around a couple blocks – figuring that by the time I got home my child would be finished practicing and I wouldn’t be tempted to say something I would later regret!

How you can help:

Realize that beginners will occasionally screech, squawk, blast, etc. They will play wrong notes. They are still learning! If it bothers you, take a break. Put in ear plugs, go for a walk. But don’t criticize and discourage them!

I remember trying not to listen to carefully to my beginning string players when they practiced because too often the intonation issues would be almost too much to handle. But they improved! Now I miss listening to them practice.

When one of my sons was first learning to play French horn his tone quality was awful! The sound was something like a sick elephant sneezing. I was afraid we had totally chosen the wrong instrument for him! And then he got it figured out. I am so glad we let him keep going with his horn. I loved listening to him play!

And then there were the times when my kids were practicing piano and continually making the same mistakes. I could only correct them so many times before we both went crazy. So, I shut my mouth, put on my shoes, and took a walk until they were finished practicing. They had to learn to recognize and correct their own mistakes!

Your child will improve; give him time! Don’t give up on them – give them time to figure this new instrument out! You will be happy you did.

Still trying to figure out what instrument your child should play? Read this post for some help – Which Musical Instrument Should my Child Play?