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Frequently asked questions

What materials are used in clarinets?
What is this B-flat thing?
What is the tone range of the clarinet?
What is a key system?
Which one is easier to learn, clarinet or saxophone?
What are the clarinets registers called?
Are all clarinets fingered the same way?
What are the different parts of the clarinet called?
How do you finger the clarinet?

What materials are used in clarinets?
You will find clarinets made mostly out of wood, but also plastic and metal are used, the latter for the bigger contra bass clarinets. The wood is mostly grenadilla but Buffet has a line of instruments with what they call "Green Line". This is a mixture of 95% granulated grenadilla wood, 5% polycarbonate fiber and a specially formulated epoxy resin, which is pressed toghether with heat. It is said to be more "crack" free and homogeneous.

Some B-flats made completely of metal can be found. They are built in one piece exept for the mouthpiece joint, and you will notice that the metal clarinet is much thinner than the wooden brother. There has been a very small (E-flat?) metal clarinet built in 4 pieces. Metal was mostly used in the early century in the US, but is doubtfully constructed any more.

Plasics are used in cheaper school instruments but are also used by marching bands when they perform outdoors. Key mechanics are plated with Nickel or Silver on the more expensive instruments. Silver gives the best feeling and precision.
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What is this B-flat thing?
The conductor reads the music from the score with all parts included. Very often the score is written with all parts in the same key signature. The term "concert key" is refering to the score. Piano, violine, flute and oboe (for instance) are tuned in C. They read the notes as from the score. The clarinet however is pitched in B-flat. If you would play from the score, the note C would actually sound like a B-flat played on the piano. When the composer extracts the clarinet part he will "raise" every note one step, so that the clarinet plays a D to sound like a concert C. This also means that two sharps must be added to the key signature of the clarinet part, for instance from C major to D major. The extracted parts are said to be the "transposed key" or "written key".
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What is the tone range of the clarinet?
Most clarinets will descend to an E, which is written under the third leger line under the staff system.
There are variants where the lowest tone is E-flat, D or even C (concert D-flat, C and B-flat). The alto and bass will always descend to at least E-flat. There is no upper limit, but most clarinettists will be able to play a C three octaves above the low "left hand tree finger C". This gives a practical range of about 3 1/2 octaves. If you want to know the tone range in concert pitch for the different instruments you should visit this site

What is a key system?
There are different key systems (links and mechanics) for the clarinet. The Böhm system is the most commonly used, and is an evolusion from the older systems. Böhm introduced better mechanics and semi tone keys which simplified the playing. In some continental countries (like Germany) you will find the Auler system with fewer keys forcing you to play with a different technique. Another system is called Albert, and is simpler than the Boehm forcing you to play with forked grips et.c. There is a site on the web about the Albert system. There is also a system called Müller that I know nothing about.
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Which one is easier to learn, clarinet or saxophone?
It will take a while (a couple of years maybe) to learn the clarinet and produce a nice tone (beautiful sound). The sax has a more generic sound, which you will achieve very fast. In general people play with softer reeds on the saxophone so I think you will get started much faster. The advantage with the sax is that it is fingered like the recorder, however the sax will of course have the semitones as well. On the clarinet there is one grip for every note. The octaves aren't the same. This sounds difficult but really doesn't matter in the end. In fact the clarinet can play one octave more than the saxophone thanks to this. If you learn how to play the clarinet you will have no problems at all to learn the saxophone later on. The other way round will take longer time. The choice of instrument is also dependent on what kind of music you want to play. The saxophone has become the more "jazzy" one and is mostly used in jazz and big bands. The clarinet is used both in jazz and classical music. My personal view is that the clarinet is the most rewarding instrument. The effort is definitly worthwhile but if you are in a hurry you choose the saxophone.
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What are the clarinets registers called?
Chalumeau - from the lowest tone (E) up to open B-flat (left hand index A and octave key)
Clarion - from middle B natural up to open C3 (octave key and thumb only)
Altissimo - above C3 and up

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Are all clarinets fingered the same way?
Yes, the basics are always the same. It might be so that the highest notes (above C3) has to be fingered slightly different. This is depending on your instrument and you will have to experiment to find the right pitch. On some instruments you will find that the left hand index key has a litte hole. When you play the altissimo register (above C3) you should close the key but leave the hole free, instead of lifting the left hand index finger. Bass clarinets has this system for instance. You will also notice that the bigger clarinets have extra keys to play below E-flat, even keys for the right hand thumb. Otherwise notation is the same and music oftenly written with the G-clef.
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What are the different parts of the clarinet called?
Have a look at this page and you will find out.
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How do you finger the clarinet?
Sneezy has a pretty neat fingering chart at this page. If you play the bass clarinet you might want to have a look at this page
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This page was updated 2004-04-26.
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