When was the clarinet invented?

According to a statement by J.G Dopplemayr in “Historische Narchrict Von den Nurnbergischen Mathematicis und Kunstlern” from 1730, the clarinet was invented by modifying the chalumeau, around 1698 by Johann Christoff Denner (1655-1707).

A clarinet is a single reed woodwind instrument common in orchestras and bands made from African Blackwood, with a flared bell and cylindrical bore. The clarinet is a descendant of the two-key chalumeau with the German flute maker Johann Christoff Denner being its inventor, at the start of the 18th century. This article has discussed the invention of the clarinet, developments made over the years to this instrument and those that made these inventions. So, to learn about who invented the clarinet keep reading.

Predecessors of the clarinet and the origin of the clarinet.

The modern clarinet as we know it today wasn’t invented like that from the beginning. Its roots date as early as ancient Egypt with the Memet, a single reed instrument being the ancestor. Also, most modern single reed instruments have descended from the Memet, which has been in existence since circa 2400BC. However, some of the single reed instruments date earlier than the clarinet, like the flute, a close relative to the clarinet in the woodwind family, has its ancestor dating more than 35,000 years ago.

According to music history, the oldest version of single-reed instruments travelled through Egypt and the Middle East and arrived in Europe via Turkey. With these developments the chalumeau was invented, the clarinet’s ancestor.

Chalumeau (Clarinet’s ancestor)

The chalumeau is a single reed baroque instrument invented in the 1630s and was first used in France then made its way to Germany where it led to the invention of the clarinet. Similar to the clarinet, the chalumeau was produced with a long cylindrical body and a flared bell end. The chalumeau was classified just like the clarinet under soprano, alto, tenor, bass and contrabass. The major downside to this instrument was that it was limited to only 12 notes, therefore, musicians had to have many chalumeau types to cover various ranges.

The clarinet was an improvement to the tone production and ergonomics of the chalumeau. Some of the improvements made on the chalumeau that later led to the clarinet’s existence included; moving the thumb key closer to the mouthpiece, opening the hole on the tube to improve intonation and range and lengthening the instrument. With these developments, the chalumeau ceased to be used as often, and today, only ten original ones exist worldwide.

The first clarinet.

The creation of the clarinet is accredited to an instrument maker in Leipzig, Germany, Johann Cristoff Denner (1655-1707). Although the exact date of the invention is not known, the clarinet is believed to have been invented between 1690 and 1700. This decade was particularly fertile in regards to musical instrument developments and Denner played a huge part in it with at least 68 wind instruments which have been in existence to date. The most advanced element that Denner added to the instrument was the speaker key aka the register key, a feature that raised the tone of the clarinet by an octave.

Developments made to the clarinet over the years.

Among the first developments made on Denner’s clarinet version was the addition of the third key in 1740. This key was manipulated by the lower thumb and it produced a low “E”, further increasing the instrument’s range. This development bridged the gap between the chalumeau’s low register and the clarinet’s higher register. Other key developments included the addition of the Ab key, controlled by the bottom hand and the C# key, controlled by the pinky finger on the upper hand.

Another development in the clarinet was the invention of pad materials in the early 1800s. Clarinets up until 1812, were created with felt pads used to cover the tone holes but these pads leaked air causing the instrument to squeak or fail to sound some notes if numerous keys were played. Iwan Muller, a German clarinetist fixed this issue by using more airtight fish bladders or leather to cover the pads, allowing more keys to be played.

Last but not least, more tone holes and keys were added to the clarinet by Iwan Muller. Now, with seven finger holes and thirteen keys, the clarinet became more flexible, playing various keys and allowing the player to easily achieve improved intonation.

The modern-day clarinet.

Today, there are various types of clarinets in existence with different sizes and shapes. The modern-day clarinet is Iwan Muller’s clarinet with extra developments, with the most recent development being the SK mechanism, invented in 1812 by William Stubbins and Frank Kasper. All other developments after 1950 have been minor and on some occasions only to specific clarinet models.

The table below has summarized all the developments made over the years that have given birth to the modern clarinet, the year the development was made and who made it.

Clarinet Development. Year. Who made the development
First clarinet 1698 Johann Cristoff Denner
Speaker key 1681 – 1735 Jacob Denner
Tuning hole 1681 – 1735 Jacob Denner
Third key and extended bell. 1730 – 1740 Johann David
Fourth and fifth keys 1750 Barthold Fritz
Sixth key 1791 Jean – Xavier Lefevre
Top-side register key J.F Simiot
Brass tuning slide J.F Simiot
Leather keypads 1806 Iwan Muller
Redesigned key mechanism 1812 Iwan Muller
Contrabass clarinet 1808
Metal clarinet 1818
Roller keys 1825 Cesar Janssen
Needle spring 1837 August Buffet
Klose-Buffet clarinet. 1839 – 1843 Hyacinthe E Klose and Louis – August Buffet
First machine-made reeds 1869
SK mechanism 1952 William Stubbins and Frank Kasper


The clarinet is an important wind instrument in the music industry. Although it was first invented in 1698, developments have been made over the decades that have resulted in the modern clarinet used today.


How many clarinets are there today?

There are more than 10 different clarinet types today falling under the soprano, alto and bass categories.

Where is the clarinet used?

Clarinets are commonly used in orchestras, bands and small ensembles.

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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