The Clarinet Family
The clarinet is a large family of transposing instruments. The B is the most widely used. It is employed in concert bands, orchestras, chamber ensembles, Klezmer bands, and jazz. In jazz, it's used primarily in Dixieland and swing genres. The bass clarinet is also used in these contexts although it's less common in jazz and rare in Klezmer.
All clarinets are cylindrical in shape and contain the following main parts:
Mouthpiece (includes a single vibrating reed)
Upper joint (also called a left hand joint)
Lower joint (also called a right hand joint, and with the upper joint comprises the instrument's body)
Bell (made of silver-plated brass and upturned on the alto clarinet, basset-horn, bass clarinet and other lower pitched clarinets)
Professional model clarinets—like oboes and English horns—are usually made from African Blackwood. Student models are made of plastic.
The keywork design of the clarinet is called the “Boehm system.” This system is erroneously attributed to the German inventor Theobald Boehm who designed a fingering system for the flute. The clarinet's fingering design was developed by the Frenchman H.E. Klosé and Auguste Buffet jeune. These innovators based their design on the pioneering work of Boehm.
The pitch range of the clarinet is divided into four registers. From low to high these registers are:
Throat (also called intermediate or break)
Clarinet (also called clarion or clarino)
The chalumeau range produces dark, woody low notes. The throat is problematic because, from around G to B, there is a technically difficult “break” between registers. Student clarinetists have a difficult time creating pitches in this zone or above it. Even professionals prefer to avoid the area around F4 to A4 since these are weaker tones.
The mouth and fingers are used to play all wind instruments. In each case, the musician blows into the instrument while the fingers depress keys (woodwinds) or valves (brasswinds). On some wind instruments, pitch changes require the player to open and close (cover and uncover) small holes in the body of the instrument. For example, the recorder and penny whistle use this system of finger holes exclusively; the western concert flute uses a hybrid of keys with tone holes.
The clarinet range is the most expressive, natural, and resonant. As a composer, you should focus on this range (from A4 to B5). The extreme range produces squeaky and/or shrill notes that should only be used for effect or other special purposes. The soprano B bass clarinet sounds exactly one octave lower than its soprano counterpart.
FIGURE 17-1: Written range of a soprano B clarinet
Notes produced by B pitched instruments.
In reverse, if you want a B major. This is illustrated in Figure 17-2.
FIGURE 17-2: Transposition from concert pitch to B