Embouchure, vibrato, circular breathing, and tongue techniques are just some of the techniques you need to hone as you learn how to play the clarinet. But thanks to this guide, you will be one step closer to playing the clarinet.
While learning how to play the clarinet is one of the most fulfilling and incredibly rewarding skills, getting started and figuring it all out is quite challenging. Before you become an intermediate player and later on, an expert, there are numerous playing techniques that you will have to learn, and the truth is that some of them may make you want to give it all up. But you shouldn’t.
But are there things that may make playing the clarinet a lot easier? Well, yes. It will take a lot of time, practice, and patience, but day after day, you will see an improvement, and the efforts you put in will pay off.
So, in this article, we’ll share some helpful tips, tricks, and a guide on how to play the clarinet. If you are a beginner, this guide is just for you.
But first, remember that the clarinet is a magnificent woodwind instrument boasting a pure, very beautiful sound. It also boasts one of the largest ranges in terms of pitch compared to all other musical instruments, making the clarinet the most interesting instrument you could play.
To play the clarinet, we recommend following these steps:
Learn the instrument
The first step to mastering this instrument is to invest in the clarinet that is appropriate for your learning level. Rome was not built in one day, and you won’t be able to play for expert-level clarinet at the expert level right off the drawing board. You have to take it a step at a time. And so, if you are only starting out for the school band, you will need the beginner-level clarinet. You could rent one from your school or buy a used one from the local music shop.
- We recommend the plastic, beginner-level clarinet for students – say, a Yamaha 255 or the Buffet B12. The plastic clarinet is preferable to wooden ones for students because the wooden clarinets present a challenge in playability, and they are also quite difficult to maintain.
- For beginners, it’s also ideal to choose clarinets with soft reeds between 2 and 2 ½, although you could opt for the ones with stronger reeds rated 3s or 4s if you have some experience playing it.
- When choosing your first clarinet, avoid the clarinets by generic or unnamed brands. Besides experienced players having little faith in these instruments, it might be a challenge finding parts or getting them replaced,
And if you opt for something older or used, first take it to the music shop and have it fixed up or tuned. It may need pad replacement, which is necessary for the desired clear tone.
Learn the parts of your clarinet
Once you have a good clarinet for beginner-level learners, the next step will be to learn the parts of the instrument. The essential parts you need to learn are as follows– the mouthpiece, barrel, bell, bottom stack, and top stack. And their assembly is from the bottom to the top.
- The bell is the horn’s bottom component that fans out like the megaphone
- The bottom stack is the main body, and it has a cork connection piece on one end
- The top stack makes up the other main section of the main body of your clarinet, and it corks on both ends of the clarinet’s section. You have to line up its straight metal hinge on the two pieces for its proper orientation.
- Then you have the barrel, which is the 3-4inch long, short segment of the clarinet. It has a slight flare on one end compared to the other end.
- Lastly, the most important part of the clarinet – the mouthpiece. It makes up the top-most section of your clarinet, and it comes with a leather or a metallic ligature that holds the reed in place. You need to line up the mouthpiece’s bottom part with the clarinet’s long, straight octave key.
Assembling the reed and mouthpiece
To assemble these two, first, slide your reed between the mouthpiece and the ligature. The flat part faces inwards. Then tighten the ligature’s knobs until snug. The reed shouldn’t be higher than your mouthpiece because this would make it harder for you to produce any notes. So, make sure that the reed’s tip falls at level with the mouthpiece’s tip. And speaking of the tip, this is a very fragile part of the clarinet, and you should cover it with the mouthpiece guard when it’s not in use.
Posture/ Holding the clarinet
Now that you know about the basic parts, you need to hold the instrument correctly. To play the clarinet correctly, you have to hold it at a 45-degree angle, away from the body, with the bell just past the knees. You should also keep your head up, and most importantly, the back needs to be straight up whenever you’re playing. In this position, hold the clarinet such that it comes to your mouth and not the other way around – your mouth doesn’t go into the clarinet.
- But there’s more. Hold your instrument with the right hand on the bottom stack, the thumb sitting on the thumb rest located at the back of the clarinet’s stack, and the rest of the fingers (3) should rest on the other three corresponding keyholes.
- What about the left hand? Well, this hand holds on to the top stack, with the thumb resting on the octave key that is at the back of your instrument and the rest of the 3 fingers resting on the other 3 main keys, which are at the bottom part of the top stack.
Keep in mind that the positioning of your fingers is very important, and even when they aren’t in use, you need them close to the holes to make it easy for them to be on the keys when needed. Keeping them too far would make playing the clarinet harder to play, especially with the faster notes,
Wetting the reed
Avoid playing the clarinet while the reeds are dry – dry reeds produce bad sound and often squeak. So, before every practice session, wet the reeds with saliva or put them in a jar with some water.
Also, regarding the reeds, start with the softer ones, say the 1 and 2.5 reeds, and only get to the harder reeds after your mouth and facial muscles strengthen. It will be time to bump to the harder reeds when the clarinet starts to sound like someone speaking with a plugged nose. Your tutor or teacher will also tell you when.
Cleaning and disassembling the clarinet after every use
Learning how to play the clarinet also means knowing how to care for it. Since most of the clarinets come with cleaning rags, use the rag to clean the disassembled clarinet after use. Note that you need to clean it regularly to avoid the buildup of moisture that would affect the sound quality of the clarinet. You could also use Q-Tips on occasion to clean the connection points. And don’t forget to grease the corks frequently.
How to play a note on your clarinet
First, say ‘whee’ then as you hold this shape, say “too” and hold this shape, then place the clarinet in the mouth. This is a technique called embouchure. Your jaw should be flat, with the top teeth planted on the top section of the mouthpiece firmly. This is important because just pushing the horn in the mouth and blowing makes it harder for you to make a note.
Next, you need to seal the corners of the mouth around the mouthpiece. The lips must seal well to avoid air from escaping and for sound to be made. Try lifting the corners of the mouth for a tighter seal, with the tongue pointing the reed but not touching – while playing. This will take time to master, but playing notes will be easier once you do.
For that even tone, place your mouth properly, then try blowing to make a sound/ tone. You have to experiment with different breath strengths to get a good sense of what it will take to get an even, good-sounding tone from your home. This takes time, no keys are to be pressed, and you’ll be playing the open G on your clarinet.
Squeaking is expected, don’t be discouraged if it happens. Just keep trying.
Keep the cheeks tight. Though tempting, you shouldn’t puff out the cheeks. Keep practicing, trying not to puff the cheeks. There will be a bit of squeaking, but you will figure it out.
Try some notes. For this, keep changing the strength of your breathing, and always cover the holes completely to get the desired clear notes. Pay extra attention to the register key.
- Find a fingering chart from the local music store or online. Common books include the Band Expressions and the Standard of Excellence. This is the most important step in mastering the clarinet, and you must study the instrument. Remember that your clarinet is a Treble-Clef instrument that falls in the Bb range, and you must learn all the basics of the treble clef. You may have to sign up for a band or some private lessons.
- Practice the scales and arpeggios, two of the most important finger patterns/ techniques for solos that make other repertoires smoother.
- Learn songs. Find classic jazz, swing, and classic repertoire to learn
- You will need private lessons from music teachers, especially because you don’t want to develop bad habits while playing. You could also join an orchestra or a band.
- Learn all other techniques. These include circular breathing, tonguing techniques, alternate fingerings, vibrato, glissando, portamento, embouchure, subtone & overtones, altissimo, and multiphonics, among others.
It will take a lot of time and effort, and patience for you to master the clarinet, just at the beginner level, and the tips above will ensure that you get it done with ease. Don’t be too hard on yourself, though; most of the techniques take a long to master. And take advantage of the lessons available to you.
What is the C-Hand position?
This is considered the most comfortable position when playing the clarinet – it keeps the hands tight enough but also loose enough for comfortable playing. In this position, there is a curve between the index finger and the thumb, making a broad C shape.