The Structure of the Clarinet: From C up to high G

Learning to play the clarinet and learning how to read sheet music go hand-in-hand with learning the structure of the clarinet. To develop your skills therefore, you will need to learn how to read the clarinet notes. Here, we will explore the structure of the clarinet, from C up to high G.

The clarinet is a complex yet sophisticated woodwind musical instrument that seamlessly blends metal, wood, and air, to create some of the world’s most unique and beautiful sounds. Even so, the clarinetist has a sacred role to play and ensure that the perfect sound is achieved when playing the clarinet. It has about twenty four tone holes and about seventeen or eighteen keys to help you achieve this. However, you can only do so if you fully understand the structure of the clarinet.

That said, the clarinet has the ability to cover a very wide register despite the fact that it doesn’t appear to be such a long instrument. When you play C and you blow hard, it produces a high G. Because of this, the clarinet is considered the only woodwind instrument that can successfully reach such high notes. In addition to that, it has more tone holes than an extended register and the recorder, which explains why it can achieve such high notes.

Understanding Clarinet Tone

The clarinet features a very distinctive tone that results from the shape of its cylindrical bore, that has different characteristics which vary between the three specific registers of the clarinet- the low register (chalumeau), the middle register (clarion or clarion) and the high register (altissimo). Along with that, the clarinet features a wide compass that is showcased in orchestral, chamber, and wind band writing.

Its timbre/tone quality varies based on factors such as the music type, the musicians playing technique and expertise, humidity, the style of the clarinet, and the reed. The French clarinet (Boehm system) has a lighter, brighter tone quality, whereas the German clarinets (Oehler system) have a slightly darker tone quality. The main differences between these two instruments and their historical development greatly influenced how the clarinet is played today and has informed an eclectic palette of acceptable tone qualities that you can choose from.

Besides that, the bass clarinet has a deep mellow sound, the A clarinet has a darker, richer but less brilliant sound, and the more common Bb clarinet has a lighter and warmer sound. The Eb clarinet, on the other sound, has a brighter and high pitched sound than all the other clarinets, and it is valued for the fact that it can cut through even loud orchestral textures.

Understanding the tone range on clarinets

You may find yourself asking, how high can a clarinet go? As mentioned earlier, the clarinet’s tone range is much wider than that of all other wind instruments. All woodwind instruments play the E and some go lower, and most clarinet players can easily reach a high c7, which means nearly four octaves.

The bottom of the clarinet’s written range is often defined on the key work that you find on each particular instrument. There are standard key work schemes with some kind of variability and the actual lowest concert pitch actively depends on the interchanging effects within the instrument in question. If you are using the B ♭clarinet, the concert pitch is often a whole tone lower than the already written pitch. When it comes to the piccolo and soprano clarinets, the kind of key work they embody enables them to play the E below middle C, as their lowest written note.

The bass and alto clarinets, on the other hand, feature an extra key that allows them to play a low E ♭.Along with that, modern professional-quality bass clarinets feature additional key work to low C. The contrabass and contra-alto clarinets, which are less common in the industry have key work to low Eb, D, or C, whereas the basset horn and clarinet generally go up to low C.

When it comes to defining the top end of a clarinet range, the highest sound produced is dependent on the players skill and expertise. Some players tend to produce notes that are much higher than the highest notes that you would easily find on different musical books.

The high G two octaves plus a perfect fifth right above middle C is commonly encountered by most clarinetists in advanced material and in the standard literature that dominated the 19th century. You will also notice that the C is easily attainable by most clarinetists and it is shown on nearly all fingering charts that exist. In fact, many professional players can seamlessly extend the range even higher.

Unfortunately, less advanced players may not be able to make these notes sound ‘in tune’, especially if they aren’t well acquainted with a good playing technique, even if they are able to produce a pitch using the proper fingering.

The table below outlines the range of a clarinet and how it is divided into three distinctive registers

Register Informal Name Description
Chalumeau Register Lowest Notes These include the lowest notes up to the written B b above middle C. The top four notes are known as the throat tones and you may need a lot of skill and practice to produce a blended tone with the surrounding registers
Clarion Middle Register/Notes Extends just over an octave- from written B above middle C, to the C two octaves above middle C
Altissimo Top register/Notes Comprises of the notes from the written C♯ two octaves above middle C and up

Why should you learn how to read music?

The symbols that you see on a music sheet behave like letters of the alphabet that make up sentences, and they have existed since time immemorial. In that regard, being able to read music simply means that you can easily understand the particular structure of the piece and how it is put together. This way, you can develop a greater understanding of the whole composition.

Each symbol on any music sheet actively represents a different rhythm, tempo, and pitch of a particular song and they also represent the techniques used by the musician when playing a specific piece. Along with that, being able to read through different clarinet notes allows you to play in a band or any other ensemble, gives you a chance to unlock an intimate world of expression, allows you to communicate about music with other musicians, and helps you sight read other woodwind instruments as well as other instruments such as the piano, brass, and string instruments.

All in all, learning to play the clarinet and learning how to read sheet music go hand-in-hand. To develop your clarinet playing skills therefore, you will need to learn how to read the clarinet notes.

Final Thoughts

A firm embouchure is very important to producing a clear and high quality clarinet sound, but learning the clarinet structure makes you an even better musician. Without doubt, the G6 is the highest note that most clarinetists encounter in classical music collections.


Why can’t I play high notes on my clarinet?

In general, the clarinet requires a very high tongue in order to achieve high notes when playing. To achieve high notes you may need a lot of practice as you maintain a high air flow and pressure.

Is the clarinet hard to play?

The clarinet isn’t any harder or easier than any other woodwind instrument. All you need is a little practice and dedication to learn and you are good to go.

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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