A clarinet is a woodwind instrument with a beautiful rounded sound. Clarinets have one of the largest pitch ranges of all musical instruments, making them one of the most interesting instruments you can learn to play. Whether you are learning for the school band or on your own, it is important to learn how to put the instrument together, how to hold it correctly, how to produce an even tone, and start playing the right way.
Part 1 of 3: Learn the instrument
Step 1. Get a clarinet suitable for your purposes
If you are just starting out in school band, it is common to rent a clarinet from your school or from a music store in your city. It is much easier to learn with a properly maintained instrument that is new rather than one that has been stored in the attic collecting mildew. It is also much cheaper than buying a new model.
- If you are a beginner, a plastic clarinet is recommended. Selmer or Buffet E11 wooden clarinets are popular models, but wooden clarinets are generally designed for more advanced clarinet players because they can be more difficult to play. Generally, it is common to use a soft reed, size between 1 and 2 1/2.
- If you have an old clarinet that you want to use, take it to a music store to fix it. The pads may need to be changed to ensure you get a light shade.
Step 2. Inspect the clarinet and learn the names of the parts
Most clarinets come in cases with spaces for each component of the instrument. When it's time to take it out and put it together, inspect the case to make sure you have all the parts ready and in working order. The pieces are assembled from the bottom to the top, in the following order:
- The bell is the bottom component of the clarinet and it fans out like a megaphone.
- The bottom piece makes up the main body of the clarinet and will have a cork connecting piece at one end only.
- The top piece makes up the other main section of the clarinet body and will have cork at both ends. Align the straight metal hinge on both pieces to orient the barrel correctly.
- The kite should be a short piece, 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm) and slightly wider at one end than the other.
- The mouthpiece is the top section of the instrument and should come with a metal or leather tie, which is used to hold the reed in place. Align the bottom of the mouthpiece with the long, straight octave key on the instrument.
Step 3. Assemble the mouthpiece and reed correctly
Slide the reed between the tie and the mouthpiece with the flat side facing inward. Tighten the knobs on the tie until it is tight enough to stay on. Adjusting it too tightly can put pressure on the mouthpiece, so go lightly.
Don't place the reed higher than the mouthpiece, which makes it extremely difficult to produce a note. The tip of the reed should be aligned with the tip of the mouthpiece
Step 4. Hold the clarinet correctly
The clarinet should be held away from you, at a 45-degree angle to the bell just beyond your knees. Keep your head up and your back straight when playing. The clarinet should go towards your mouth; your mouth should not go to the clarinet.
- The clarinet should be held with the right hand on the bottom piece and the thumb on the thumb rest at the back. Your other three fingers should be resting on the three corresponding holes.
- Your left hand should hold the instrument by the top piece. The thumb should be resting on the octave key on the back of the instrument. Your other three fingers will be resting on the three main keys at the bottom of the top piece of the clarinet.
- When you're not using your fingers, keep them very close to the holes to make it easier for them to reach the keys when they are needed. If you keep your fingers too far away from the clarinet, it will be difficult to play fast things.
Step 5. Wet the reed before playing
If you try to play with a dry reed, it will sound bad and will probably squeak more often. Before a presentation, place the rod in a small jar or bottle of water. Sucking on the reed will not produce the desired tone and can cause damage to it. Soak the reed in water while you're not playing to kill bacteria.
- Try to start with a softer reed, between sizes 1 and 2 1/2. As the muscles in your mouth get stronger, you will start to need harder reeds.
- You will know when to move to a harder reed when the clarinet starts to sound like a person speaking with a stuffy nose. Your teacher will also tell you if you need a softer or a harder reed.
Step 6. Take apart and clean the clarinet after each use
Every time you play the clarinet, you have to take it apart and clean it to prevent moisture from accumulating inside it. You can clean the instrument quite quickly and easily.
- Most clarinets should come with a cleaning cloth, which you can wipe through the body of the clarinet after each use. One end should have a string, which you use to pull the cloth through each section of the clarinet. This only takes a minute, but it helps keep it in operational condition.
- From time to time, it is also good to use a cotton swab to clean around the connection points, where saliva and small particles can collect.
- Grease the corks regularly. It can be difficult to assemble and disassemble the clarinet if you let the corks dry. Once you play the clarinet a lot, you can grease the corks about once a week. If you grease the corks too much, they can slide off.
Part 2 of 3: Play a note
Step 1. Place the clarinet in your mouth correctly
Say "wiii" and, while holding this shape, say "you." Hold this shape (known as the embouchure) and place the clarinet in your mouth.
- Keep your jaw flat. Your upper teeth should be firmly planted on top of the mouthpiece, on the opposite side from the reed.
- If you just push the clarinet into your mouth and blow, it will be difficult to produce a note. It takes a bit of work to make the correct shape with the mouth, called the embouchure.
Step 2. Seal the corners of your lips around the mouthpiece
If your lips don't seal it enough, the air will escape and no sound will come out. Try lifting the corners of your lips to tighten them even more. Your tongue should be pointing at the reed when you play, but not touching it.
This can be difficult to get used to at first, and you will likely learn best by taking classes
Step 3. Try to get an even tone
With your mouth in the correct position, simply try to blow to produce a tone. Experiment with different powers of air and get an idea of how long it takes to get a good-sounding tone from the clarinet. This will take a bit of work. If you don't press any keys, you will play an open Sun.
If you squeaked, don't be discouraged. It is difficult to get used to the shape of the mouth for the clarinet. Just keep trying and experimenting with different amounts of air to blow through the clarinet
Step 4. Keep your cheeks tight
It can be tempting to puff out your cheeks when playing, but you'll get a more even and consistent tone if you avoid this. Practice touching in front of the mirror to avoid inflating them.
At first, this can make you squeak a lot more. If you squeak a lot, check where your mouth is on the mouthpiece. Make sure it is neither too high nor too low. Your teacher can help you with this. Also make sure the reed is lined up correctly
Step 5. Try to play a few notes
Press a few keys to experiment with different notes, seeing how the force you have to use to blow through the clarinet changes. Try to get an idea of what makes the sound higher or lower. Just experiment for a bit.
When playing, always cover the holes completely. If you don't, the notes won't come out. Especially when you are using the register key, make sure all the holes are completely covered
Part 3 of 3: Taking the Next Step
Step 1. Get a fingering chart
Look at your local music store again to see what kinds of beginner clarinet books they have. Some commonly used are Band Expressions, Standard of Excellence, and Rubank Elementary Method. All of these will teach you how to play songs and learn the proper fingering for each note.
It will be difficult to get very far on the clarinet without learning to read sheet music. The clarinet is a treble clef instrument in the B flat range, so you will need to learn the basics of the treble clef to learn more about how to play the instrument. The best way to do this is usually with the school band or private lessons
Step 2. Practice scales and arpeggios
If you practice scales and arpeggios, your technique for solos and other types of repertoire will be much more fluid. Finger patterns are essential to playing the clarinet well, and you can learn them quickly by practicing these melismas.
Your teacher will likely teach them to you in the long run, if you have one
Step 3. Learn songs
As with any instrument, if you're just playing for fun, start with things you know. There are quite a few popular, not too challenging pieces for clarinet, especially if you like swing and jazz, which is more intuitive. The classical repertoire can be more demanding, but there are easier pieces if you search well.
Step 4. Consider taking private classes
It is very difficult to learn to play the clarinet just from reading a book. It's better to start with a teacher rather than on your own so that you don't miss out on anything or learn anything wrong. School music teachers often offer cheap classes.
You can develop bad habits without even knowing it, which can make it difficult to go beyond a certain skill level. If you want to play the clarinet the right way, take lessons
Step 5. Join your school's band or orchestra
If you are really interested in playing the clarinet, find a teacher and join a band or orchestra.
Get ready for the long road. You are not going to become a good clarinet player overnight. Start with the basics and then move on to more advanced things. Playing an instrument is a lifelong learning project
- Always warm up before playing any song. This will enlist your mouth and fingers, and will also help ensure that the rod is in working condition.
- If you're not sure how to play a note, consult a fingering chart.
- If you're not sure if you want to buy a clarinet yet, renting one is a great option, especially if your music store offers rent-to-own.
- You have to clean the reed frequently; otherwise it will break.
- As with any instrument, you should take it regularly for an inspection at your local music store to make sure everything is working fine.
- Make sure to keep the embouchure firm; the jaw should be flat and the mouth should be turned.
- Listen to professional clarinetists and try to sound and "flow" like them. Start with the imitation and you will gradually develop your own unique sound.
- If you are a more advanced clarinet player, you may want to upgrade to a better quality wooden clarinet. Buffet and Selmer are very popular clarinet brands that sell many very good models.
- Keep your clarinet in an area at room temperature. If it gets too cold, it may sound out of tune.
- Don't blow too hard or take a large part of the mouthpiece between your lips. This will make it harder to play and it will make you sound bad, not to mention the squeak it will produce.
- Don't bite down on the mouthpiece too hard. This can damage it and make your teeth hurt.
- Never chew gum or eat or drink sugary things while playing or before playing. Food can get into the clarinet, or your saliva can dry inside it and make the inside sticky.
- The clarinet is a very difficult instrument to learn to play well without a teacher. It can be easy to get started, but unless you want to get stuck forever in music for beginners, it may be best to get a teacher.