A contrabass clarinet is around 7 feet long. Its distinctive height piques interest and may intimidate a clarinetist, but playing one is a worthwhile affair.
Learning to play the clarinet is a thrill for any music enthusiast, especially when it seems as challenging as a contrabass. The sheer size of a contrabass clarinet may unnerve inexperienced clarinetists, but it produces a unique pitch that can make your piece stand out. Read on to find out how a contrabass clarinet’s exceptional size influences its sound, among other facts.
A contrabass clarinet is a single-reeded musical instrument with the lowest pitch of all clarinets. It is also the largest member of the clarinet family. Experts call it a pedal clarinet as a metaphor because of the pedal division in its organ and its low tones. A contra-alto is the second type of contrabass clarinet, and it plays a more high-pitched sound.
In 1808, Dumas of Sommieres was the first person to make a contrabass clarinet with his goldsmith skills. Several innovators attempted to improve his original concept, but its design didn’t gain traction until the 19th century, when manufacturers like Leblanc used it to make successful versions. Currently, contrabass pieces are antiques or limited ones from renowned brands since contra clarinet choirs have declined.
Contrabass clarinets are roughly 7 feet tall or more! The instruments have an imposing design because of their remarkably long necks and bells that wind themselves twice. This measure roughly translates to 190cm to 270cm in length, and they look like oversized versions of bass clarinets. They are taller than most people, so you must sit on a raised chair or stand to play one; it is cumbersome.
Most clarinetists prefer smaller, versatile devices, like the bass clarinet, so the contrabass isn’t popular. The cost of a professional unit like a Selmer Paris Model 41 makes the instrument more obscure since few are willing to part with thousands of dollars for one. Perhaps the hefty price makes sense if you’re in a band, but you can explore affordable ones for newbies and intermediate players.
The pitch of all wind instruments depends on their length and how you play. Since the radius of the clarinet’s hollow tube and its conical bore is significantly large, it can achieve deep dark sounds smoothly. Its winding snake design creates a musical environment for the lowest reverberations.
The aperture that sits between its mouthpiece and reed allows air to enter its tube as sound waves. Once these waves hit the clarinet’s long string columns, they vibrate slowly. When you cover the tone holes on a contrabass clarinet, its sound wavelength will also increase while its pitch lowers to get its distinct sound. Small clarinets, like the sopranino, are high-pitched because air vibrates quickly against their short strings.
A contrabass clarinet is a Bb instrument with the lowest pitch because its sound is an octave lower than a bass clarinet and two octaves lower than a soprano clarinet. Contrabass clarinets have a C to Eb keys, but others play from Eb to a low D. A contra-alto clarinet is an octave lower than an alto clarinet at Eb, while others can go as low as D or C if it’s longer with extra keys.
Both contrabass clarinets produce rich, warm, deep, round, and powerful bass, especially in a woodwind section of an ensemble, because of their tubes’ extraordinary size. Music repertoires from contrabass clarinets are few, especially for the relatively young contra-alto, since their sizes require outstanding breath control and embouchure. Some music experts also believe the device sounds bold and haunting, so they avoid it.
If you want the lowest pitch for your choir, concert band, and orchestra, the size of a contrabass clarinet will work in your favor. The shorter length of a contra-alto will produce a high pitch and wide range most concerts need.
Despite the slight difference in their heights, a contrabass isn’t better than a contra-alto because each device plays different parts in ensembles. However, some clarinetists prefer a contra-alto to a contrabass because it’s easier to transpose other instruments to a concert pitch. Besides, a contra-alto is more versatile because it complements a bass clarinet, bassoon, tuba, and baritone sax.
Ensure the clarinet is durable and easy to play. This longevity comes at a steep price, but cheap contrabass clarinets break within months of use. You can also buy reeds that suit your instrument and make it easy to play your contrabass clarinet.
|Best Contrabass Clarinet||Type||Height|
|Leblanc Model 7182||Contrabass||6.6ft|
|Selmer Paris 40||Contra-alto||6.2ft|
|Buffet Crampon 1553||Contra-alto||7.5ft|
Since contrabass clarinets are larger than bass ones, you’ll need dedicated reeds to play one. Most clarinetists vouch for Vandoren reeds and their quality, but you can also explore Rico and Marca labels to find out what works for you. If you can’t access these brands, use Bari sax reeds because most contrabass clarinets can effortlessly fit bass saxophone mouthpieces.
Contrabass clarinets are exceptional because of their large size. This design allows contrabass clarinets to produce reverberations that sound low-pitched, rich, and mellow but forceful to some music experts. The brand, reed, and affordability are some factors you should consider as you look for an ideal contrabass clarinet.
Should I play a contrabass clarinet?
Contrabass clarinets can make you stand out in your ensemble. Playing one shows you’re willing to push the envelope and take risks on low solos like John Corigliano’s Symphony No.1.
How much is a contrabass clarinet?
An intermediate contrabass clarinet retails at around $5000, while a contra-alto clarinet costs $3500. A professional one will set you back more than $20,000.