The highest-sounding clarinet is the Sopranino Clarinet. It is also known as the Eb clarinet. This is practical because, unlike most clarinets which are generally Bb transposing instruments, the Sopranino Clarinet is in Eb.
Modern clarinets are commonly either Bb or Eb transposing instruments. The Sopranino Clarinet is the highest pitched among the commonly used clarinets in orchestral and band set-ups. A transposing instrument in simple terms means that, if you play C on the instrument at a concert, the sound of the note will be a Bb. That is also true for an Eb clarinet. The A clarinet is the only clarinet that behaves differently, playing C on the A clarinet at a concert will sound as A.
Learn More about the Clarinet
The acoustic properties of the clarinet depend on the reed and mouthpiece, the bore and the tone holes. It produces sound through vibrations of air within the column in the bore. The frequency of the vibrations is determined by the bore dimensions, which are changed by combinations of open and closed side holes.
The pitch of a clarinets tone is determined by the volume of air. Environmental factors like humidity have also been known to affect the tone of a clarinet and the pitch. Large volumes of air vibrate slowly and produce a lower pitch. Smaller volumes vibrate rapidly and result in higher pitches. The player changes the pitch of the instrument by opening and closing the key holes on the clarinets body. Closing more holes will for example lengthen the instrument and result in lower notes.
Here is a summary of the most common types of clarinets that will interest you
The Most Common Types of Clarinets
|Soprano Clarinet||Bb Clarinet||Bb|
|Bass Clarinet||Bb Clarinet||Bb|
|Sopranino Clarinet||Eb clarinet||Eb|
|A-Soprano Clarinet||A Clarinet||A|
|Contrabass Clarinet||Bb Clarinet||Bb|
|Alto Clarinet||Eb Clarinet||Eb|
|Contra-alto Clarinet||Eb Clarinet||Eb|
|Others||C-clarinet and D-Clarinets: They are not common and rarely used|
The Distinct features of Different Types of Clarinets
There are several types of clarinets as you have seen above. Each clarinet has distinct features and tone that distinguishes it from the rest. Below is a brief helpful highlight of the different types of clarinets, the features that make them unique, and where they are used. Read on and find out.
This is a Bb clarinet. It is the most popular clarinet and a favorite of many clarinetists and clarinet music enthusiasts. You can use it to play any style of music and its rich emotional tones will not disappoint.
Like the soprano clarinet, the bass clarinet is equally a Bb instrument. It ranks as the second most popular clarinet with music composers and performers. It is a versatile clarinet that you can also use in many styles of music.
The Sopranino clarinet is the highest-pitched clarinet among all the commonly used clarinets. It is an Eb clarinet. You will find it used on set with most bands and orchestral setups.
This is another common soprano clarinet though not as popular as its predecessor the Bb soprano clarinet. It is an A transposing instrument. It’s the only commonly used clarinet that is not in Bb or Eb. You can distinguish it from the Bb clarinet by its slightly larger size. It is often used as an alternative replacement for the Bb soprano clarinet in classical music despite its somewhat different timbre.
This is the lowest-pitched clarinet among the commonly used clarinets you will find around. It is also a Bb instrument but an octave lower than the bass clarinet. You can use it in orchestras, small chamber ensembles, and band settings.
The alto clarinet is among the slightly less common clarinets you will come across. This may be because it is an Eb instrument. It will perfectly serve you in bands and small chamber ensembles. You will rarely find an alto clarinet in orchestras.
This is also another rare and less popular clarinet you will come across. Like the also clarinet, it is an Eb instrument. The Contra-alto will be found in orchestras, unlike the alto clarinet. You can also use it in a band or a small chamber ensemble.
The Clarinet’s Main Applications
Contrary to what most people think, clarinets are not only used in orchestras and classical music setups. Clarinets are used in all kinds of music. It has featured greatly in jazz music. There are also many instances of the clarinet being used in traditional music across many cultures thanks to its unique sound.
Clarinets come in many types with each type having its unique qualities. You became a guru at distinguishing the tonal qualities and where they are the best suit by constantly being exposed to clarinet music. If you are a novice, I would advise you to start with the common Bb clarinets. You can determine what suits you and fits your style and musical tastes as you grow and get more exposed to this beautiful instrument.
Can I afford a good clarinet if I want to start learning?
Yes. The brands that manufacture clarinets make student-level instruments for learners at pocket-friendly prices. You can find them on Amazon, eBay, and the manufacturer’s sites.
How many notes can a clarinet play?
The clarinet has a range of four octaves you can play around with.
Do you need special fingering for alto and bass clarinets?
No! Generally, all clarinets use the same fingering. However, you may find a few variations in some.
Why is a clarinet called a Bb instrument?
Because the clarinet is a transposing instrument, a C you play on the clarinet will sound like a Bb. That is a difference of a whole tone.