Clarinet FAQ's

Frequently Asked Questions

Welcome to the FAQ section of the ‘Beginner’s Guide To Learning The Clarinet’ series.  Email us if you have any more questions to add to this list, and remember to sign up for 4 Feature Friday

Clarinet FAQ's

Choosing An Instrument

Should I go for a wood or plastic clarinet?

Novices often use plastic clarinets due to their relatively affordable price. They also tend to be more durable than wooden ones, which can be damaged from the slightest fall or bump. Students start on plastic clarinets and eventually move up to wood by their third year, because by this time, their skills have improved enough that plastic clarinets won’t be able to handle their advanced techniques. Go for a plastic clarinet if you’re a beginner with a tendency to be clumsy, and your budget is quite limited. Or if money and being careful isn’t an issue, then by all means start with a wooden instrument

I found a brand new clarinet for about $198 (£150). Should I go for it?

At this price point, it can be tempting to go for the brand new instrument instead of looking for a used one, which can be of better quality if you know what to look for. But like with every other instrument out there, you can’t cheap out on a clarinet. Low-tier instruments are often not set up according to industry standards, meaning you won’t be able to learn the basics as well. And if you don’t learn and master the basics, you can’t achieve a certain level of proficiency with it. So no, don’t go for the cheapest one you find. Spend at least a little more to make sure you get a good one. 

Should I buy new or used?

Brand new instruments are always a good way to go. Problem is, they can be expensive. As for used ones, you can find a similarly high-tier clarinet for half the price compared to if you bought it brand new. But the issue with used instruments is that you can get a poorly maintained one that won’t last you for a while. When shopping for used clarinets, be sure to do a lot of research before pulling the trigger on an instrument. 

What does single and double reed mean?

Some woodwind instruments such as the oboe and bassoon use double reeds. The clarinet only uses one. A reed is a thin, long piece of, well, reed, that is attached to the mouthpiece and is critical in producing sound. Without the reed, the clarinet won’t be able to sound properly, if it even produces a sound at all. Double reeds are more of a tube compared to single ones, and are created using two reed pieces woven together at the bottom. 

I have a 15-year-old clarinet that’s in good shape. Is it still worth the same price as when it was new?

Generally, the answer is yes. There is always a certain amount of luxury that surrounds older instruments, especially if they are in good, playable condition. If the instrument is well-maintained and looks/performs like new despite its age, then it can be worth its original price-sometimes even higher. But the thing with clarinets is that the wood might not be in as good of a condition it used to be. This is also the same issue with its axis and keys, which can go bad with time. 

What are good clarinet brands?

Brands such as Yamaha, Buffet, and Jupiter are reputable ones that produce good quality student-level clarinets. Despite their lower-end tier, these instruments give beginners a good musical foundation that will make it easier for them to upgrade to professional level clarinets. You can also go for brands such as Uebel, Selmer, and LeBlanc, but their higher-end offerings can be very expensive for the average consumer. So when shopping, remember to look for an instrument that fits very well within your budget. 

Maintenance

Why is my clarinet squeaking?

Squeaking often occurs when the air you blow doesn’t move properly throughout the instrument. A lot of reasons can cause this, so the only way you can really be sure is to take the clarinet to a technician. And you can’t really wait it out too, because a clarinet squeak is among the most painful things you can hear from an instrument. Instruments such as saxophones squeak as well, but not as noisily high as a clarinet. 

How do I clean a clarinet?

Pull a swab through each section of the clarinet to get rid of built up moisture and grime inside of it. You should also wipe down the keys to prevent the buildup of oil which comes from the fingertips when you press it. Always remember to take apart the instrument before every cleaning session to ensure that you get to clean off even the toughest, hard-to-reach parts. Moisture is the clarinet’s biggest enemy, so make sure to soak that up every chance you get. You’l find everything you need in a good quality woodwind cleaning kit.

Technique

Does the fingering technique for alto and bass clarinets differ?

All clarinets generally use the same fingering techniques. But there might be times that you can find extra keys on a bass clarinet that you won’t find on an alto one, because those are the notes that only a bass clarinet can hit. Only the highest register, which is the third register, will require special fingering techniques in order to play them properly. But this often depends on the individual instrument itself, and if it’s available, you will be given tables. Most of the time, however, you won’t need those. 

My child has small hands. Will he be able to play the clarinet?

Yes, even children with small hands can still reach most of the notes on the clarinet. It might take them a bit longer to reach the lower notes, however, but that’s not a big concern. You can help your child out by instructing them to add one finger at a time to get him acclimated to the feeling. Or you can ask them to play in front of a mirror. Whenever the child presses on a hole, try to see if there’s a full circle on the fingertip after they take it off the instrument. If there is, then they’re covering the hole completely and that’s a good thing. Make sure the child is able to do this for every single hole. 

Why do I need different strength reeds?

Reed “strengths” refer to their thickness. The thinner the reed, the easier you can get a sound out of it. But the sound quality won’t compare much to that of a thicker reed. If you’re a beginner, it is critical that you start with a thinner reed first so you eventually develop the strength to go for thicker ones. If you have a clarinet teacher, he/she will advise on what reed strength best fits you, so you won’t have to worry about that. If you don’t have an instructor, try to see which thickness fits your level best, then go from there. 

General Clarinet FAQs

I have braces, and playing the clarinet hurts my mouth. How do I avoid this?

It is not always advisable to learn to play a wind instrument if you have braces or anything else in your mouth. But if you really want to learn, there are a few ways to avoid hurting yourself. For one, you can ask your orthodontist to put a thin protective coating on the braces so they don’t hurt the inside of your lips. It’s also possible that your lip technique isn’t as good as you want it to be (i.e. you’re putting too much lower lip over your teeth). Try pointing your chin and saying “eeeew” to get yourself used to better lip positioning. For more information about clarinet technique, visit our dedicated article, here.

Is it easy to play a clarinet?

A clarinet is no more harder to learn than any other musical instrument out there. But for a complete beginner, the biggest issue is getting a sound out of the thing in the first place. This is almost always the case with novice learners of wind instruments. Don’t fret, my friend! One of the first techniques you’ll learn is how to position your lips on the mouthpiece, and how hard or soft you have to blow into it to get a good sound on your early tries. Once you master that, you can go forward to making music from there. 

Is a reed required to get a sound out of the clarinet?

Yes. Clarinets will never work without a reed installed. It’s the single, most critical part of the instrument when it comes to producing sound. The reed’s purpose is to allow air to travel through the instrument, thus making it vibrate and able to produce a sound. You can’t pick just any type of reed, however. A good teacher will advise on what strength (thickness) of reed you should go for depending on your skill and experience level with the instrument. 

Can children learn the clarinet?

Yes! All a person needs to be is be big enough to be able to reach the notes on the instrument. That’s the same for a young one. Little children who want to learn how to play can start on the smaller C clarinet or Nuvo, which they would definitely be able to reach. Plus, the clarinet is a fun instrument to learn! Once the child gets a hang of it, they will have a lot of enjoyment making music from it, and make friends along the way! 

Clarinet FAQ's
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