The Eb and the Bb clarinets look so much alike, but what are the differences between these two popular options of clarinets?
Though these two are the most common clarinets and the best options of the woodwind instruments in the world of music and look alike, there are several differences between them. They also use the same type of fingerings. However, these two are completely different instruments with different features, tones, notes, and overall sound to the trained eye.
We’ll explore the differences between these two clarinets, but first, an overview of these two instruments.
This clarinet is also called the sopranino clarinet in Eb, a transposing instrument and the highest-pitched of the common clarinets. It is also a common option for band repertoires and orchestras.
This is a bass clarinet and the 2nd most popular clarinet used in most music styles.
So, what are the main differences between them?
The Eb clarinet is considerably smaller than the Bb clarinet, and it also plays at a much higher pitch than the Bb clarinet.
They also have differing timbre, and the Eb tends to have a more shrill sound than the Bb. Eb and Bb clarinets are also used in different ensembles, and although the Eb clarinet tends to be more difficult to play than the Bb, it’s also comparably more expensive.
In other words, the Bb clarinet is more or less the standard clarinet for beginners learning how to play the clarinet. Given the lower prices and the high degree of playability, it is a great option for most people.
|Clarinet Features||Eb Clarinets||Bb Clarinets|
|Embouchure||Complex fingering||Easier fingering techniques|
|Uses||Auxilliary instrument for marching bands, orchestras, clarinet choirs, concert bands||Jazz and classical orchestras|
|Best for Jazz||Yes||Not often|
Main Features and Differences between Eb and the Bb Clarinets
Size and Pitch
The main difference between the Eb and the Bb clarinet is the size. The Bb clarinet, a soprano or harmony clarinet, is bigger than the Eb, at a length of 26 inches, versus the Eb clarinet (piccolo or sopranino clarinet), which is only 19 inches long. The tone holes and the bore of the Eb are also smaller.
And so, thanks to the differences in their sizes, the two instruments produce different pitched sounds or notes. So, when your clarinet is pitched in the Eb plays written C, it produces great sound in Eb and a minor third note above the written note.
On the other hand, the Bb clarinet will play a written C, producing a Bb sound and a major second right below the written notes. And so, to play the Bb in a pitched C or the concert pitch, music produced by both clarinets would be transposed.
Remember that the Eb’s high-pitched sound is meant to penetrate through the ensemble, allowing the sound to blend well with the other instruments whenever you’re playing.
Also, both clarinets are highly pitched, in two different ranges and keys. And while the Eb clarinet is written with a high that sounds as high as the f; the Bb clarinet is often written in a high C, sounding as the written Bb.
The embouchure relates to the mouth and facial muscles and how they control breathing, and how you play the clarinet. So, while the Eb clarinet needs more support and control of the air stream than the Bb, the Eb’s smaller size allows for ait to travel through the smaller bore, hence the need for a strong embouchure and an even greater level of air support.
And so, even if playing both instruments calls for a fast and a continuous stream of air while playing, the smaller size of the Eb clarinet means that air travels through a shorter distance in the smaller clarinet.
In other words, the Eb clarinet needs a smaller embouchure than the Bb clarinet. So, you would have to produce a smaller amount of embouchure for the Eb clarinet than for the larger Bb clarinet with a smaller mouthpiece.
As a result, the long tones are a great form of exercise for learning students because they allow and enable building the embouchure muscles to enhance the player’s playability with either instrument. And when playing the longer tones, you’d need a tuner to control the intonation between the registers, which is enhanced by the stronger embouchure from playing the larger Bb.
Note that when you’re starting to play the Eb clarinet, you’d need to start playing it very gradually to avoid biting and early fatigue. You also need to master the long tones to be able to build the endurance that’s needed for playing the Eb clarinet.
This is the other important technique for playing either then Bb or the Eb clarinet, and the technique is different when playing the Bb and the Eb clarinets. The fingerings for the Eb clarinet are similar to that of the Bb clarinet, but you’ll often need a high altissimo when playing the Eb clarinet. You’d also have to find the false fingerings to play in tune and for the fast, more technical passages. So, a great way of finding great fingerings often involves using the tuner when you need to play the long tones. You also have to find between 2 or 3 fingerings to work the clarinet.
B-Flat or E-Flat
The other thing you need to know about the clarinets is that they can be B or F-Flat clarinets. The B-Flat is more popular than the E-Flat clarinet. Though the E-Flat is commonly used in orchestral and symphonic repertoires, it’s not ideally used for solo performances or chamber music. However, some composers use it for solo music.
Both the Eb and the Bb clarinets boast unique properties, and you only need to take time to learn either instrument before you can figure out how to learn both.
The clarinets have different tones or timbres, and they differ based on the size of the bore, the length of the instrument, the tone holes, and the mouthpiece.
The Bb clarinet has a warmer and fuller tone, while the Eb clarinet is more strident. Therefore, it is more difficult for the Eb clarinet to blend easily with the rest of the ensemble than the Bb. The Bb has a more pleasing tone.
That said, musicians can still learn to easily and beautifully play the Eb clarinet. And so, the Eb clarinet has a very loud ensemble. Therefore, these clarinets serve different roles in the music world, not replaceable.
If you are trying to play the Eb clarinet, you should know that it will be challenging to attain the perfect intonation. This is the case because of its acoustic properties, and also doesn’t play very well in-tune with itself the way the Bb clarinet does. Therefore, when using the Eb clarinet, you would have to use so much more embouchure and a lot of fingering adjustments throughout the clarinet range.
This difficulty is explained by how the Eb has some sharp notes when you slightly relax the embouchure or how the pitch drops slightly when you close one more tone hole. That said, there are many fingerings for you to choose from, especially the notes from the altissimo register that allow you ease of playing for the higher notes.
The Eb and the Bb clarinets are great options of clarinets for players. Still, the Bb clarinet is a standard clarinet that is easier to play than the Eb clarinet, which is regarded as an auxiliary instrument that delivers the best playing experience in concert bands, orchestras, and marching bands, etc.
What are the differences in the shapes of the Bb and the Eb clarinets?
The clarinets are poly-cylindrical, hence a distinctive pitch range and tone. The Eb is generally about .532 inches, while the Bb clarinet is .573 inches. So, the Eb clarinet offers more air resistance than the Bb clarinet. And generally, the tone holes and the keys on the Eb are smaller than the Bb clarinets.
How can you tell the Bb clarinet apart from the Eb clarinet?
In addition to the noticeable difference in sizes – 26inches for the Bb and 19inches for the Eb clarinet, the other difference between them is that the C on your Eb will match the Eb concert pitch, but the C on the Bb matches the concert pitches.