how to play the Clarinet

Learning how to play the Clarinet

Studying the clarinet can seem similar to a massive mountain to go up. Within our ‘Beginner’s Guide To Learning the Clarinet’ range, this specific segment can help you start off your journey by offering you the basics to get you moving…

How To Play The Clarinet

Assembly

You may have just opened your clarinet case for the first time (super exciting) and you are wondering how all the parts fit together! 

There are five main parts to the body of the clarinet: mouthpiece, barrel, upper and lower joints, and bell. Start by applying cork grease to the corks of the joints.  

Take the upper joint in your left hand and wrap your fingers around the back of it, pressing the ring over the middle hole down. This is an essential step as the bridge key (on the bottom left side of the upper joint) must be raised in order to properly connect the two joints. 

Take the lower joint in your right hand and carefully press the two joints together, lining up the upper and lower bridge keys. Try to avoid gripping the keys on the lower joint, because they can easily become bent or go out of adjustment. Place the bell on the end of the lower joint. 

Place the barrel on the upper joint, and finally, the mouthpiece on top of the barrel. Wet your reed by placing the top half in your mouth for a minute or two, then put the reed on the mouthpiece. The tip of the reed should line up with the top of the mouthpiece, but you may have to adjust this depending on the strength of the reed. 

Carefully place the ligature over the reed and mouthpiece and tighten the screws.

How to play the clarinet

So your first task is...

to practice putting the clarinet together and taking it apart. It’s like riding a bike- tricky at first but you’ll be doing it on autopilot before you know it. 

Form an embouchure

Now that you know how to put the clarinet together, you are ready to play! In order to do this, you need to make an embouchure. Embouchure is a French word meaning “mouth of a river”, and it also means the way the mouth is positioned around the mouthpiece. 

To form a good embouchure, start by pretending to drink a thick milkshake from a straw. Your bottom lip should be stretched over your lower teeth, and your chin pointed. Open your mouth slightly and insert the mouthpiece. Your top teeth should rest on the top of the mouthpiece. Close the corners of your mouth. 

Make a sound

To make your first sound, all you need is your mouthpiece (with reed and ligature) and barrel. Make an embouchure and insert the mouthpiece, inhale through your nose and blow through the mouthpiece. 

Clarinet players normally inhale through their mouths, but in this exercise, you should avoid moving your embouchure once you have it in place. You should also avoid puffing your cheeks when blowing through the clarinet. 

Once you can make a sound with the mouthpiece and barrel, try making a sound with your clarinet fully assembled. 

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How to hold the clarinet

Pretend you are holding a cup with your right hand. This is similar to a good right-hand position on the clarinet. Place your right thumb under the thumb rest on the back of the

lower joint. Your right index, middle and ring fingers should hover over the three holes of the lower joint, and your pinky finger over the keys on the bottom right side of the joint. 

Bring your left hand up to the upper joint. Place your thumb over the hole on the back of the upper joint. Place your left index, middle and ring fingers over the holes on the front of the upper joint. Your little finger hovers over the key on the bottom left side of the upper joint. 

Hold the clarinet at a 45-degree angle to your body. If you sit while playing, use a firm chair. Whether you choose to sit or stand, find a relaxed but upright position. A good playing posture will increase your breath support and help you avoid playing injuries. 

How to play the clarinet

Fingering

The more fingerings you know on the clarinet, the more tunes you can play! Try covering the holes on the upper joint, one at a time, starting with your left thumb, then first finger, middle finger, and ring finger. 

Next. add your right-hand first finger, followed by your middle finger, then your ring finger. You already know seven notes on the clarinet! You can learn seven more just by adding the register key, which is the key just above the left thumb hole. 

It’s possible to play over 40 different notes on the clarinet. The best way to learn fingerings for them is to get a fingering chart. A fingering chart is a map to help you figure out where to position your fingers on the keys. 

When fingering on the clarinet, it is important to cover the holes completely. If the holes are not sealed, you may have trouble making a sound, or you may accidentally play a high pitched noise called a squeak. 

Articulation

Articulation, or tonguing, is the way notes are separated on the clarinet. Make an embouchure and place the tip of your tongue just below the tip of the reed. Remove your tongue to start the flow of the air.

In order to help you find the correct position for tonguing on the clarinet, say “tee tee tee”. You can also try this with the mouthpiece in your mouth.

How To Play the Clarinet - Summary

By now, you should be able to:

  • Assemble your clarinet properly. 
  • Make an embouchure and play a sound.
  • Hold the clarinet with a good hand position.  
  • Play at least 14 notes – as long as you remember where the register key is located!
  • Tongue, or articulate, on the clarinet. 

Now it’s time to improve your technique…

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