As students begin or continue their musical journey in a school band, marching band or orchestra, having the right clarinet is very important. The musician's age and skill level need to be considered when buying a clarinet, as does the kind of use the instrument will be put through. This article covers the different levels of clarinet, how material affects the instrument's sound, and you'll also find information about bore sizes and shapes. Of course, if you're buying a clarinet for a student, consulting with the band teacher is always helpful too.
Some of the questions answered below
These clarinets are the perfect choice for beginners and can be used for up to 2 to 3 years of playing. A student clarinet is usually small and lightweight, which is ideal for transporting to and from school, and the bore is typically bigger to allow the air to easily pass through to make a sound.
For your first clarinet, it's best to choose plastic. They're more durable and less costly than wooden clarinets. High school, college marching and pep bands often still use the plastic instrument even after students have moved on to playing the wooden clarinet.
Student Clarinet Accessory Checklist:
Box of reeds strength #2, reed holder, cork grease, upgraded plastic mouthpiece, silk clarinet swab, luggage tag, wire music stand, chromatic tuner, metronome and silk mouthpiece swab
Intermediate clarinets are the natural next step for high school players who have outgrown their student instrument. They are also an excellent choice for non-music-major college students or part-time musicians who play in a local concert band or a church.
The first thing to note is that stepping up to an intermediate clarinet has mental, physical and playing benefits for the clarinetist. Psychologically, moving up to an intermediate clarinet can help revive a lost interest in playing. It's not much fun when a student has outgrown an instrument and is not playing to their potential. So upgrading to an instrument that matches the skill level and size of the player just makes sense. Intermediate clarinets are also made from superior materials, and this helps to produce a better sound. The use of Grenadilla wood lets players experience a full and rich tone, while a smaller bore creates a focused and centered sound. The undercut tone holes also improve pitch and better key work enables clarinetists to further develop and improve their technique.
Students who play at a higher level or are considering majoring in music at college might want to skip the intermediate version and go with a professional clarinet. That way, they can familiarize themselves with this level of instrument before college auditions.
Intermediate Clarinet Accessory Checklist:
Premium reeds strength #2.5 or 3, cork grease, hard-rubber mouthpiece, upgraded ligature, mouthpiece cushions or pads, silk clarinet swab, silk mouthpiece swab
This is the instrument of choice for professional musicians and serious high school and college students. Made from the finest quality grenadilla or rosewood available, professional clarinets feature a bore that is enhanced for optimum intonation and sound, and the key work is finished with first-class materials. Something to note: just because a professional clarinet features all of these components doesn't necessarily mean it's a quality instrument. It's important that the whole process be performed by a skilled musical instrument craftsman with an astute attention to detail.
There are a variety of materials used in the making of the clarinet's body and each one influences the instrument's tone and projection.
Student-level clarinets are made exclusively from plastic, making them durable and less likely to be affected by humidity or temperature.
Ebonite (Hard Rubber)
Clarinets made with Ebonite are rare, but the dark sound and projection provided by the dense rubber is a favorite among professionals. Hard rubber is also a stable and durable material like plastic.
Grenadilla (African Blackwood)
More advanced and professional players prefer clarinets built with Grenadilla wood as the sound is more focused and has a “ring” not found in synthetic instruments. It's important to properly break-in and care for a wood clarinet to ensure long lasting playability.
Grenadilla wood is becoming less available and to offset the instability of true wood clarinets, Buffet-Crampon developed a blend of grenadilla dust and epoxy called Greenline. The use of Greenline results in a clarinet that features the density and tone of a grenadilla clarinet and the added stability provided by good synthetic materials.
Rosewood clarinets are quickly becoming the top choice among chamber players and soloists as they deliver a darker, mellower sound than grenadilla.
Keys that are nickel plated are shiny, don't tarnish easy and provide extra durability. This is the material most preferred by professionals and used on student and intermediate level clarinets.
Silver plating adds a small amount of weight to the clarinet, resulting in a slightly darker tone. It also creates a warmer look to the clarinet and is softer to the touch.
This is a blend of gold and silver that Yamaha offers on their CSG series Bb and A clarinets. Hamilton plated keys give the clarinet a slightly golden look, while the added weight delivers a darker and more liquid sound.
How big or small the bore is on a clarinet affects the general playing feel of the instrument. Larger bores are more free-blowing and provide greater flexibility and projection, making them a favorite with jazz players. Medium-sized bores are the most common and offer the perfect balance between focus and flexibility. Chamber musicians prefer smaller-bore clarinets as they are the most resistant and deliver a compact, focused sound.
Bore shape is also an important factor and has a huge impact on a clarinet's overall playability. There are two types of bore shapes – cylindrical and polycylindrical. Cylindrical-bore clarinets are more free-blowing and flexible, providing a large sound with great volume. Polycylindrical-bore clarinets are a tad more resistant, deliver superior intonation, and the sound is less flexible but has more ring.
How to Break in a Wood Clarinet
You can prevent wooden clarinets from cracking by ensuring you break-in your new instrument. It's essential to also do this with a used clarinet that hasn't been played in a while. This allows the wood to slowly adjust to the heat and moisture introduced when you start playing for extended periods of time.
- Week 1:
Play your clarinet for no more than 15 minutes per day and be sure to swab the bore carefully afterwards to remove moisture.
- Week 2:
Lengthen your playing time to 30 minutes and swab the bore afterwards.
- Week 3:
You can now play for 45 minutes. Don't forget to remove moisture by swabbing the bore.
- Week 4:
Playing time can be extended to one hour with the usual bore swab afterwards. Your clarinet should now be properly broken-in if you have followed this schedule closely. Musicians who live in a dryer climate should use a humidifier in their case, as the clarinet will require more moisture. A humidifier helps prevent the wood from drying too quickly, which can result in cracking.