Student vs. Intermediate vs. Professional clarinet – What’s the difference?

Getting a clarinet is not as easy as it sounds. There are plenty of factors to consider, including the skill level of the musician, with these three clarinet classes catering to different users.

As a musician who has played several instruments for more than 15 years, the clarinet is among my favorite picks due to its versatility. That does not mean the start of playing it was easy for me – I discovered the differences in different clarinets, and soon found out that they are grouped into student-level, intermediate, and professional versions.

My confusion when narrowing down my choices was evident, especially when I was learning the clarinet. It does not need to be the same for you, whether you are purchasing it for yourself or someone else. This is the reason behind this article; I want to do a comparison of the three clarinet levels, as knowing them will help you make a wiser choice when you are choosing a clarinet, and ensure that your choices work well for you.

What are the differences between Student, Intermediate, and Professional clarinets?

Clarinet type Student (Yamaha YCL-255 Standard clarinet) Intermediate (Buffet Crampon E12 clarinet) Professional (Buffet Crampon R13 Professional clarinet)
Color Black Multicolor Multicolor
Bore Small Medium, small Large
Body Material ABS Resin Wood Granadilla wood
Keys Nickel Nickel Silver
Dimensions (in inches) 14.96 x 5.91 x 12.2 inches 17.9 x 11 x 7 inches 14.25 x 11.18 x 4.75 inches
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Student vs. Intermediate vs. Professional clarinets – How do they compare?

Body material

In terms of the clarinet body, you will find wood or plastic composition in most cases. For student clarinets, the priority is creating an affordable material that can withstand falls, and other damaging factors like humidity, so they are usually comprised of plastic or a composite of rubber and plastic. However, these materials do not offer the best sound quality, so intermediate and professional clarinets will usually feature wooden (mostly Granadilla wood or rosewood) or rubber materials that mimic wood clarinet tones.

Wooden clarinets are the best if you want a rich sound from the instrument, so the professional clarinet wins in this category.


Clarinet keys are plated with one of two metals: silver or nickel, with a few clarinets (particularly Yamaha) featuring Hamilton plating, which is a blend of silver and gold. Each metal type has its benefits and drawbacks and will be more common in some clarinet types over others.

Nickel has the advantage of durability since it is not prone to tarnishing like silver tends to do. It also has a relatively shiny appearance when polished and is a preferable choice for student-level and intermediate clarinets as it does not require much maintenance. Additionally, some professional-level players like it as well – but the main disadvantage is that sometimes, nickel keys show more signs of wear and tear over time.

Silver-plated keys are considerably heavier compared to the nickel-plated options, and they add extra weight to the clarinet. Due to this, the overall sound quality of the instrument becomes darker and richer, hence their more common usage in professional-level clarinets. It is also considerably shiny.

However, they require much more care and maintenance than nickel-plated keys because they are prone to tarnishing, but proper care will ensure they remain beautiful as long as the clarinet is viable for use.

When choosing whether nickel or silver-plated keys are better, it comes down to preference; I find nickel keys to be better and easier to maintain.

Bore sizes

This goes a long way in affecting the clarinet’s feel when you use it; generally, larger bores make it more challenging to play.

For clarinets that are for beginner or intermediate levels, the clarinets will have smaller bores to make them easier to keep in tune and play. Some clarinets will also have medium-size bores that offer the best balance between flexible playing and focus. In contrast to this, professional clarinets will have larger bores to give maximum pitch flexibility.

It is always best to choose medium-sized bores, so intermediate clarinets will win in this category as they have this feature more often than most.

Student vs. Intermediate vs. Professional clarinets – Are they redundant?

Student clarinets Overview

Also referred to as ‘beginner clarinets’, these are meant for new clarinet players. They focus on teaching you the basics of playing the instrument without requiring much tuning, and they are comprised of more durable materials such as ABS rubber and plastic. They are also quite affordable, which reduces the investment you need to make in them in case your interest in the instrument is on a short-term basis.


  • They are quite durable
  • Affordably priced
  • Power-forged keys that do not break easily
  • A smaller bore that produces sound easily


  • They do not allow for much progress for the player beyond a certain point


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Intermediate clarinets Overview

Choosing an intermediate instrument is not different from selecting a student instrument, but the difference is that they are meant to last for a longer time compared to beginner-level clarinets. Due to this, they are better for a player who has the experience of a few years and needs a transition instrument.


  • They have a richer and wider tonal range
  • Very durable, as it can withstand extreme temperature and humidity changes
  • The inclusion of double barrels
  • Attractive price point


  • Some clarinets of this type will require tuning and adjustments early


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Professional clarinets Overview

While beginner and intermediate clarinets can only last for a few years at a time, professional-level clarinets last for many decades due to their impressive high quality. Since they are built from premium materials, they come at a much higher price tag – but the sacrifice is worth it when you transition to becoming a professional clarinetist.


  • Very flexible in tonal depth and sound quality
  • Produce a very warm sound
  • If maintained properly, they will last for many decades
  • Silver-plated keys are anti-microbial and do not become stiff


  • Require more maintenance to play at top-notch quality
  • Very expensive
  • Cannot handle extreme changes in temperature and humidity


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Verdict: So, which is better? Student, Intermediate, or Professional clarinets?

Your choice will depend on your needs as a player, as each clarinet type suits different skill levels. The student-level types are best for beginners, and intermediate types are good for transitioning clarinetists, but the professional-level clarinet is the end goal of every player as they excel in their skill.


Are professional-level clarinets difficult to play?

No, they are not – especially when you know the instrument. You will find them easy due to their better sound qualities, improved tones, and better pitches.

What clarinet type is best for a beginner?

You should start your clarinet journey on a standard Bb clarinet type if you are 12 years or older. On the other hand, a C clarinet is best for players who are learning the instrument and are younger than 12 years old.

What are clarinets made from?

Most clarinets, especially professional-level ones, are made from Grenadilla wood, metal, or ebonite. The lower-level clarinet types are made from plastic or hard rubber materials such as ABS resin.

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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