Clarinet Vs Recorder – which is harder to play?

Both clarinets and recorders are amazing instruments that go along with many musical styles. Both instruments are quite challenging to learn, but it becomes easy once you get the hang of them.

Since learning how to play the recorder back in middle school, I have loved woodwind musical instruments. In high school, I decided to take up the clarinet, which also falls under the same category. Both instruments use basically the same principles to produce sound with few distinct differences. They are both orchestral instruments that are used in the performance of various music styles, from classics to more contemporary styles. For many people who have expressed an interest in learning how to play a woodwind musical instrument, the recorder will probably be the starting point. I decided to compare the two instruments based on my experience and see which is harder to play so that you can come to an informed decision on which instrument to choose.

What are the differences between a clarinet and a recorder?

Feature Clarinet Recorder
Body Made of wood mostly from hardwood trees

Plastic is almost never used

Mostly made of hardwood from hardwood trees

Also, plastic may be used

Keys Has 17 keys

Mostly plated in silver

Has no keys

Just seven finger holes

One thumb hole

Tone Has a variety of tones

Varying from low to high

Has a variety of tones

From low to high

Reed Has a reed

Made from reed grass

Has no reed

Has a whistle mouthpiece

Clarinet Vs Recorder- How do they compare?

The body

The body of most clarinets are made of hardwood from various types of hardwood trees, such as maple wood and ebony, a dark African tree found in the Congo basin. The body of the clarinet is divided into five main parts. The mouthpiece, where the lips of the musician rest, the barrel comes in various lengths and immediately after the mouthpiece, which plays a major role in tone production, upper joint, lower joint, and the bell, which is the furthest end from the mouthpiece and resembles a bell, hence the name. The body also has 17 keys that help the musician play the right tones. For many parts of the clarinet, they can be removed and replaced with custom-made ones to better suit the musician. The mouthpiece of a clarinet has a reed which helps produce the right tones.

On the other hand, a recorders body is mostly made of hardwood such as maple and ebony. There are also plastic recorders available in the market, but these are mostly used by beginners. The body is made of three major parts the head joint, middle joint, and foot joint. The head joint is made up of the mouthpiece and a window. The middle joint is where six of the seven finger holes are found and a thumb hole. Finally, the foot joint is the last piece and has one hole in it. The recorder does not incorporate the use of keys. It operates when the musician blocks and opens the holes.

Clarinets are definitely more complex in construction, and most beginners find it difficult to get the hang of them at first.


Basic entry-level clarinets have 17 keys that are placed in different positions along the body of the clarinet. The keys are made of different materials, but the most commonly used materials for professional clarinets are nickel and silver. For student and entry-level clarinets, cheaper materials are used to make the keys, such as stainless steel, to keep the cost down. The keys may need maintenance to ensure they operate smoothly. Maintenance most includes polishing and lubrication. The keys cover the holes when pressed by the musician so as to produce different tones and notes.

Recorders, on the other hand, do not incorporate keys in their design. Rather they only have holes and rely on the musician’s fingers to perform the same function as keys in a clarinet. The recorder has eight holes that are located at various points on the body. It has seven finger holes and one thumb hole that is located on the back side of the middle joint. The function of the thumb hole is to act as an octaving vent which is used when the musician wants to play a note higher than the lowest note, which is usually the ninth.

The clarinet has so many more keys, and it proves to be the harder instrument to play for most people as it requires a lot of concentration and coordination.


The clarinet has a variety of tones that can be achieved by the musician by employing a variety of techniques. Generally, the quality of the clarinet itself plays a major role in the quality of tones produced. Cheaper plastic student clarinets have a much shaper tone that is not so pleasing to the ears. The more expensive professional wooden clarinets have much warmer tones that are very soothing to the ear of the listener. The barrel and bell quality play a huge role in the quality of notes produced by a clarinet. The higher-end barrels and bells tend to produce better tones.

For a recorder, it is fairly simple and straightforward if you ask me. However, the quality of the tones depends on the quality of the recorder, just as was the case with the clarinet. The bore size plays a huge role in the kind of tone a recorder will produce. This is determined by the manufacturer; hence buying your recorder from a renowned manufacturer is best.

Once again, the clarinet has a complex method of producing tone and requires good understanding from the musician; hence most people find it difficult.


Clarinets have a reed that is mostly made from reed grass. Choosing the right size and shape of the reed plays a major role in the quality of sound that the clarinet produces. However, this comes after having a lot of experience with the instrument. Standard reeds come in different sizes and shapes, depending on the type of clarinet.

On the other hand, recorders do not have reeds. They make use of a mouthpiece that is called a whistle mouthpiece which draws its design from the classic school whistle used by physical education teachers. As the mouthpieces come already fixed, the musician cannot customize them.

The clarinet once again proves to be the most challenging in this category. As it requires a lot of experience, usually years, to make a choice on a good reed.

Clarinet Vs Recorder- A comparison overview

Clarinet overview

Clarinets produce soothing sounds that many audiences find quite appealing. They are extremely versatile to play, and they are used to play a variety of music styles. Clarinets can be quite expensive to acquire, even a basic beginner piece will set you back a few hundred dollars, and the price goes higher for professional clarinets, which run up to the hundreds of thousands. They offer a wide variety of tones that most musicians find appealing. Once you get used to the instruments, the clarinet is among the most enjoyable and fun instruments to play. However, in the beginning stages, they can be quite a nightmare to play and will take a lot of willpower from you.


  • Produces a wide variety of notes which goes well with many music styles, from classical to modern music.
  • It is highly customizable to fit the individual needs of the musician, hence preferred by professionals.
  • It can be used to play a solo since it has a wide range of tones.


  • It is very expensive to purchase. The prices range from hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands.
  • It is hard to play for beginners due to its complex design.


View price here


Recorder overview

Most recorders are very easy to play. They produce a sound that is of a few tones, and octave variation is offered by the thumb hole. For most beginners, the recorder is the easiest of the woodwind instruments. Most recorders are cheap, but there are various recorders that can go into the hundreds of dollars depending on the type of wood and design detail. Its basic design is simple and does not require a lot of maintenance like the clarinet, as it only incorporates three major parts.


  • It is easy to learn for most beginners since it is simple in design and does not have many parts that need to be understood.
  • It is fairly inexpensive as most beginner recorders are mostly a few dollars, and the professional recorders are normal in the hundreds of dollars range.
  • It is simple in design and hence requires little to no maintenance.


  • Produces a monotone that is not pleasing for most audiences.


View price here


Verdict: So, which is harder to play? Clarinet or recorder?

It is evidently clear that the clarinet is harder to play. This is attributed to the fact that it has many components that can be challenging for most to master. However, the clarinet is one of the best woodwind musical instruments, if not the best, and if you can put in the effort, it will definitely be all worthwhile.


Can I transition from a clarinet to a recorder easily?

Yes, with the right mindset and determination, the transition will be smooth as both instruments operate on similar principles.

Is the clarinet more popular?

Yes, among professionals and audiences, the clarinets are more popular because it produces a wide variety of tone that can be very soothing.


Charlotte Moore is a Clarinetist by profession and has over time offered lessons on how to play the clarinet among other musical instruments. And while a majority of clarinet players are well versed with the process of settling with a good clarinet among other accompanying features. There is little information about clarinets. The reason why Charlotte prepared comprehensive experts touching on the various facets of the clarinet. The consolidated information will offer more insight on everything clarinets including the best stand to use, and the best plastic clarinet that you can invest in, among other information. Charlotte Moore is a devoted mother of two and a professional clarinet player.

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