Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and the clarinet was my introduction to playing an instrument, which included finding the best instrument combinations to achieve excellent musical output.
In my long-term experience, getting the right combination of instruments always takes creativity, and knowing how these sounds relate to each other. You will find clarinets in jazz performances, classical orchestras, modern rock music, and even band setup, so it is worth knowing the best instruments to pair them with – which I will answer in this article.
What are the best instrument choices for pairing well with clarinets?
Clarinets, similar to all woodwind instruments, are impressively versatile and fit a wide range of genres and music styles.
Therefore, it is easy to use it alongside other instruments, but my favorite companion instruments are violas, flutes, oboes, bassoons, trumpets and trombones, and horns. This does not just limit you to these instruments either; take it as these being the best picks of instruments to play alongside it.
Stringed instruments with the clarinet
Clarinet and Viola
Violas and clarinets share many great traits when you play them in unison, as violas pair very well with multiple woodwind instruments. The viola gives the clarinet a more mellow feel in its sound when you play them in similar registers while playing the clarinet in a higher key allows it to assert itself when combining it with the viola.
Clarinet and cello
The cello is the best-stringed instrument you can play alongside the clarinet, especially when you are playing the clarinet in its middle and lower registers since their low pitch output will add intensity to your musical arrangement.
Woodwind instruments with the clarinet
Clarinet and Flute
Clarinets are woodwind instruments that you blow air at one end, while the air goes through the instrument. On the other hand, a flute is a woodwind instrument that requires you to blow air sideways, instead of blowing air through it.
Clarinets especially the common Bb types can play a musical range between D3 and G6, with some clarinet types playing above this range and others below. Clarinets often produce dark and rich sounds, while flutes produce light and breathy sounds as they play in the range of B3 to F7.
Flutes are strongest at higher registers, while clarinets are strongest at lower registers, producing a balanced sound that generates tension and excitement. Neither of them is loud, so they tend to play in the background of louder instruments, but they are beautiful when they sound their best.
Clarinet and Oboe
Clarinets and oboes are very similar, but oboes are double-reed instruments that present more challenges to a clarinet player. Their sounds are also similar, since they are deep and rich, but they have one difference: the oboe is more prominent in the lower register, while the clarinet can handle both the higher and lower parts of an arrangement due to its ability to transpose notes.
Clarinets in this case are easier to transpose notes on, especially if you are playing a Bb clarinet, but you cannot transpose an oboe – so it will always remain in a lower C range. Playing both instruments makes your arrangement sound fuller, and you have the freedom of playing the clarinet higher or lower in the range.
Clarinet and Bassoon
This is a similar case to the combination of an oboe and clarinet – both bassoons and clarinets are full-sounding woodwind instruments. Their sound qualities are what makes them different, and also make them suitable to play together in an arrangement.
Clarinets use a single reed, while bassoons use a double-reed structure. They also vary in weight and size, with bassoons being heavier. In terms of their sound, a clarinet is a transposing instrument and you can adjust it to playing higher or lower notes, while the bassoon is a non-transposing instrument as it plays in the same pitch you would hear from a concert piano.
Therefore, combining them will allow you to use the clarinet to support the bassoon sound, resulting in a dark, rich, and deep output. You can use the clarinet to play in the lower register alongside the bassoon to add a dark feel or transpose it higher to add tension to a score.
Brass instruments with the clarinet
Clarinet and Trombones or Trumpets
Between trumpets and trombones, trombones are the easiest pick to go for when combining their sound with the clarinet if you want to increase the depth of musical output. Trumpets will function like flutes, as they add contrast due to their higher pitches, and this will be more pronounced if you are playing the clarinet in its upper register.
Clarinet and Horns
In the realm of combining clarinets with brass instruments, the horn is the most likely to produce a blend that sounds mellow at most times. However, changing the clarinet pitch to play higher notes will make the combination sound brighter while retaining its fullness.
This combination is exciting when a musical arrangement takes a hopeful-sounding turn, or when you want to introduce a brighter feel to the song.
Playing the clarinet alongside other instruments is a wonderful feeling since you are taking advantage of its versatility. Knowing how different instruments sound allows you to know what pairs best with the clarinet, and the suggestions I have outlined should help you start off creating harmonious arrangements in a band or orchestral setup.
Is it possible to pair a singing voice and a clarinet seamlessly?
Yes, it is. In many orchestral arrangements, pairing the clarinet in unison with a human voice, especially an alto or soprano singer, is common due to the similar pitches.
Can I play clarinets with other woodwind instruments?
Yes, you can. Since the clarinet is transposable, it can play notes across a wider range, making it easy to play alongside other instruments in harmony or unison depending on the arrangement.
Which instruments play closest to clarinets?
The woodwind family of instruments plays the closest tone and pitch as the clarinet, so instruments such as the bassoon, oboe, and flute are excellent choices.
Which instrument generally plays best alongside a clarinet?
The cello is the best choice if you want a harmonious arrangement with a clarinet since they will balance out their middle and lower registers. Flutes are the second-best choice due to the tonal contrasts they present.
Is there any instrument I should avoid playing alongside the clarinet?
No, as clarinets are highly versatile and work well with multiple instrument options.