Clarinets are highly versatile instruments that fit various musical styles, and it is worth knowing them and their varieties to pick the best one that suits your needs.
Since learning to play the clarinet when I was 10 years old, they have brought opportunities my way – playing for the school band is a major one, and so is the chance to participate in orchestral performances. You might want the same, but the choices of clarinets available may prove confusing for you.
I will talk about the differences between the A and Bb clarinets and help you make an informed choice. Specifically, I will use two models I am most familiar with; the Mendini by Cecillio Bb clarinet and the Buffet Crampon E13 A clarinet.
What are the differences between Bb vs. A clarinets?
|Clarinet model||Bb clarinet (Mendini by Cecillio Bb clarinet)||A clarinet (Buffet Crampon E13 clarinet)|
|Dimensions (in inches)||14 x 10 x 4 inches||19.14 x 9.8 x 6.3 inches|
|Wood||EBS Plastic||Granadilla wood|
|Availability||Check price||Check price|
Bb vs. A clarinets – How do they compare?
Bb clarinets are the most used clarinet type, and they are also referred to as ‘harmony clarinets’ – they produce the typical sound you would hear from a clarinet. Due to their versatility, they are considered the best clarinet choices you can get for a beginner player. In terms of specific models, the Mendini Bb clarinet is made from ABS resin plastic, which makes it durable and able to withstand abuse from younger players.
On the other hand, the A clarinet, or specifically the Buffet Crampon E13 is made from wood, so this is not a clarinet you would give to a complete beginner or a young player. It is also slightly longer, but more commonly works as a solo and orchestral instrument rather than one to use in a band setup.
If you are getting a clarinet for a beginner, the Bb clarinet is a better choice as it is made from plastic, a durable material that is easy to maintain.
The A clarinet is mainly for professional players, rather than beginners – and its keys will tell you. The key construction is silver, which makes it highly polished but prone to stains and dirt if the player fails to take care of it. On the other hand, the Bb clarinet in question here uses nickel keys, which are more durable and can withstand abuse from beginners and younger players.
Nickel-plated instruments like the Mendini Cecilio Bb clarinet are more durable choices that work for a wider range of player levels, so the Bb option is the better choice in this case.
Clarinets depend heavily on reeds to produce distinct tones. Most Bb clarinets, if not all, have a reed rating of between 1.5 and 2, with the reed level increasing as the instrument advances in skill level. The A clarinet type is harder as it is meant for professional players, with the strength ranging from 3 to 5 depending on the specific clarinet model.
For maximum versatility, the Bb clarinet reeds are the best choice for beginner and intermediate players.
Since most clarinets are Bb instruments, it sounds lower than the written notes in a composition, so it requires a player to play a step higher than what the written music directs. If you want to play the most accurate notes without changing the pitch, that is where the A clarinet steps in, because it produces a sound that is a minor third below the written pitch.
That means if a musical passage is written in E major, for instance, you will play it in G major if you are using an A clarinet while playing it in F# major. This also makes the A clarinet better at handling more technical musical passages, while the Bb clarinet is better at handling improvisational passages.
While both have their strong traits, the A clarinet is best for players that want a fuller tone from their instrument while playing more technical passages.
Bb vs. A clarinets – Are they redundant?
Bb clarinets are impressively versatile, and they are what you are looking for if you want a versatile instrument that fits multiple playing situations and skill levels. Most models you will find are durable and will last for many years, along with traits such as high responsiveness that make them easier and more convenient to play.
- Works best for beginners and intermediate players
- Easy to maintain due to its durable body
- Its reduced keywork makes it easier to play
- Produce a warm and full sound
- It is easier for players transitioning to brass and other woodwind instruments
- Some models tend to have substandard reeds
- Corks remain too tight in some cases
A clarinets overview
This is the best choice if you are a professional musician, due to the easier key arrangement for technical musical pieces. The purpose behind its creation in the mid-18th Century was to reduce the number of flats or sharps orchestral players were expected to play, and make the playing experience easier for them. Additionally, the A clarinet is an easier clarinet to keep in tune with other instruments.
- Very easy to play in a solo or orchestral arrangement
- The build of most A clarinets is strong and durable
- Produces a rich, dark tone compared to the Bb clarinet
- The keywork system is also durable and you can customize the details according to preference
- Easy to play due to the adjustable thumb rest
- Relatively rare and pricey
- Only suitable for professional players
Verdict: So, which one is better? Bb or A clarinets?
Both Bb and A clarinets will work better for different people depending on your musical needs and skill level. In terms of the overall winner, the Bb clarinet wins due to its ease of play for a beginner, as well as the versatility it offers in the musical applications it can handle – you can play it solo, in a band, or an orchestra.
Why is using an A clarinet important for a player?
A clarinet types give you the foundational basics for playing more complex arrangements once you graduate to the level of a professional clarinetist.
Can I transition easily to a Bb clarinet if I play an A clarinet and vice versa?
Yes, you can, as the principles for playing both instruments are the same.