The clarinet is a single instrument that belongs to the single reed group of woodwinds, which also includes saxophones. Clarinets are featured in Klezmer music, woodwind quintets, wind ensembles, and woodwind choirs, as well as orchestras and bands.
The clarinet family’s single reeds are listed below, in order of lowest to highest volume.
The lowest clarinets are contrabass clarinets in Bb, which range an octave lower than the bass clarinet. They’re the only clarinets that can be entirely made of metal, and they look like contrabassoons.
Although contrabasses and contra-alto clarinets are sometimes used interchangeably, there are some differences: the range is higher, the transposition is different, and the instrument is typically made of rosewood.
Bass clarinets in the Bb range are an octave lower than bass clarinets, with a range similar to that of the bassoon. Whether or not the bass clarinet has an extension determines the lowest note. It’s written in either the treble or bass clef, and it sounds a major second or a major ninth lower than it’s written.
Alto clarinets in Eb are primarily used in wind ensembles and bands. They sound a major sixth lower than they are written, and they aren’t usually thought of as a solo instrument.
Basset horns in F sound a fifth lower than the written part. They are no longer a standard instrument for orchestral writing, but they are still used in older pieces for historical accuracy, such as Mozart’s Requiem. A basset clarinet in A with a low C is also available.
Soprano clarinets are the Bb or A clarinets that most people think of when they hear the word “clarinet.” The choice between these two instruments may be determined the key of the work, with a preference for the Bb instrument in flat keys and the A in sharp keys, but this is not a hard and fast rule. The Bb clarinet is frequently used in popular music, jazz, and military music.
Sopranino/piccolo/high clarinets in Db and E, and formerly C, extend the soprano clarinet’s range upwards and are interchangeable with A and Bb clarinets, with Eb used for flat keys and D for sharp keys.
The fingering system is the same on all clarinets, regardless of size or transposition. They all have a “break,” where the transition in fingering can be difficult for the inexperienced player.
Johann Christoph Denner invented the clarinet at the end of the 17th century, based on the chalumeau, a single reed with eight finger holes and an octave range. Denner’s invention consisted of three or four sections and two keys, which were made of wood or ivory in the 18th century.
There are currently two keywork systems – French and German – as well as five parts. The mouthpiece is the first component, with a ligature holding the reed in place. The mouthpiece is then connected to the upper joint of the instrument, where the left hand plays, a barrel joint. The interconnecting lower joint for the right hand comes next, followed the bell.
Many well-known clarinet passages exist, including the opening theme in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5’s first movement and Ivan the Cat’s theme in Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. Woody Allen, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Richard Stoltzman, and Evan Ziporyn are just a few of the well-known clarinetists.