E-flat vs B-flat clarinets – Which is better?

The b-flat clarinet is among the most common type of clarinet that is used. The e-flat clarinet is also used but less commonly. The b-flat clarinet is popular because of its flexibility in the sound it produces.

The clarinet is the most commonly used woodwind instrument by musicians around the world. This is due to the versatile nature of the sound it produces. This makes it to be used in a variety of settings from orchestral performances, solo performances, studio recordings for movie sets, and jazz ensembles. The B-flat clarinet has been the most common clarinet since the 17th century when the instrument was first invented. The music instrument has developed considerably over the years giving rise to various types of clarinets like the E-flat clarinet which is the smallest of the family.

In our article today, I am going to compare the B-flat and E-flat clarinets and their different applications in a bid to find out which is better.

What are the differences between B-flat and E-flat clarinets?

Clarinet type B-flat clarinet E-flat clarinet
Dimensions 23.6 inches long. 19 inches long.
Body May be made of wood, plastic, or resin.

Almost a third larger than the E-flat clarinet.

May be made of wood, plastic, or resin.

Smallest of the clarinet family.

Key material Silver-plated.




Key B-flat. E-flat.
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B-flat vs. E-flat clarinets – How do they compare?


For the B-flat clarinet, the standard length for the body is 23 inches, this may vary slightly depending on the length of the barrel that the musician will choose to use because the barrel length is not standard for all clarinets. The size of the bore and the length of the clarinet contributes greatly to the quality of sound it produces. The body of these clarinets may be made of different materials with wood being common with professional level musicians, wood produces a much warmer and fuller sound and it is said the sound quality of a wooden clarinet improves as it ages. Student and entry-level clarinets are made of resin which makes them lighter and easier to play. Since the B-flat clarinet is the most commonly used clarinet many of them are made of wood.

The E-flat clarinet is also known as the piccolo clarinet due to its miniature size. On average the length of an E-flat clarinet is 19 inches and this may vary as well depending on the length of the barrel used. Due to its small length and bore size, the E-flat clarinet produces high pitch sound compared to the other clarinets. The high pitch sound it produces makes it less desirable among beginners and more common among professionals who have mastered the art of controlling the pitch of the instrument. Since it is common among professionals it is commonly produced using wood which gives it a fuller tone hence “calming down” the frequency.

In this category, the B-flat clarinet is the winner since its larger size allows it to be played with ease and makes its sound to be versatile.


B-flat clarinets have the standard 17-keys mechanism. The keys run the entire length of the middle section and perform a variety of functions. From trill keys which allow the musician to play rapidly to thumb keys at the back of the middle section which allow the musician to play at a higher octave. The key material varies considerably and is largely dependent on the skill set of the musician for which the instrument is intended. Professional clarinets feature silver-plated keys which are more resistant to corrosion and stains. They also require less maintenance. The student and beginner-level clarinets feature nickel-plated keys which are prone to staining and require much more maintenance to ensure their smooth operation.

Also, the E-flat clarinet features a 17-key mechanism. Due to the small nature of the clarinet, the keys have to be smaller and have to be fitted close to each other. This becomes problematic to beginners and students as well as people with larger fingers. Hence this makes the clarinets less common among these two groups of people. The keys are either nickel-plated or silver-plated, but because they are common among professionals most are silver-plated for reasons discussed earlier. The keys allow the musician to change the pitch and sound of the clarinet while playing. The key mechanism also features rings that cover the six main tones holes which is common among all the clarinets. These rings help create a better seal when playing.

For this category, the B-flat clarinet wins because the keys are more space and allows a variety of people to play the instrument comfortably.


The reed plays a major role in the sound a clarinet produces. Depending on tightly or loosely the reed is placed on the mouthpiece it will influence how softly or loudly the clarinet plays. The B-flat clarinet uses a reed that is 11mm in width and this is the standard size of reeds. The profile of all reeds is the same having one thick side that tappers to a very thin side. The thinner side is what vibrates when the musician blows into the clarinet and produces the sound that we hear coming out of the clarinet.

The E-flat clarinet also uses the same size of the reed as the B-flat clarinet. The difference comes in the thinness of the side profile. This is highly dependent on the musician’s playing style.

In this category, there is no clear winner as they use the same kind and size of reed the variables are only dependent on the musician’s style.


The B-flat clarinet has a variety of tones. These tones vary from low fuller tones to much higher tones on higher frequencies. Tonal variation is provided by the six main tonal holes that run the length of the middle section. When the musician has more fingers covering the tone holes low lower tones and frequencies are produced. On the other hand, when the musician wants to play a higher tone at a higher frequency he or she removes more fingers from the six tone holes. Thumb keys are used to allow the musician to play at higher octaves.

The E-flat clarinet also plays a variety of tones but it is many confined within the higher frequency tones due to the nature of its construction. Variation in the tone is provided for by the key mechanisms along the clarinet.

In this category, the B-flat clarinet is the clear winner because it is versatile and can play from very low tones to very high ones while still being soothing to the audience.

E-flat vs B-flat clarinets – A comparison overview

E-flat clarinet

The E-flat clarinet is the smallest of the clarinet family earning it the name Piccolo clarinet. Its small size makes it the highest clarinet in terms of the sound it produces. The only difference that the E-flat clarinet displays are its size. All other features on it are the same as the B-flat clarinet. The E-flat clarinet is more common among professional musicians as it requires greater skill to learn and play the instrument. Due to the high nature of its tone, it is not as common as the B-flat and A clarinet in orchestral performances as well as solo ones. However, like all other clarinets in the woodwind family, it is a very interesting instrument to play and a lot of satisfaction comes from playing it.


  • It is easy to maintain due to the quality of materials used.
  • It is easy to play once you get used to it.
  • It plays at much higher tones than all other clarinets.
  • It is highly customizable.


  • Its size makes it difficult to play for beginners.
  • It is expensive.


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B-flat overview

The B-flat is the most common clarinet in the woodwind family. It gains popularity due to the versatile nature of its operation and the wide array of tones that it can play. The B-flat clarinet is common among students and beginners because of its size which makes it easy to play, secondly, it plays a wide variety of tones which makes it very good for learning purposes. Due to its ability to play a wide variety of tones, it makes the B-flat common in orchestral performances, solo performances as well as studio recordings to be used on movie sets.


  • Its size makes for a more appropriate key placement.
  • When played it produces a very warm sound that most audiences find appealing.
  • It is an easy instrument to play for musicians transitioning from brass instruments.
  • It is best suited for beginners.


  • Since it is a common clarinet there are many replicas in the market that will not work as well.


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Verdict: So, which one is better? E-flat or B-flat clarinet?

Both the E-flat and B-flat clarinets work well in various settings depending on the individual needs of the musician as well as the skill level. However, the B-flat clarinet is better than the E-flat clarinet since it is more versatile in a side-by-side comparison. The E-flat clarinet is a good clarinet but has limited applications due to the factors that I have discussed in this article.


Which is the lightest clarinet?

The E-flat or Eb clarinet is the lightest in the clarinet family due to its small size.

Can I easily transition from B-flat to E-flat?

Yes, although it might take some getting used to since the two have a significant size difference.

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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