The clarinet is a very versatile reed instrument, used in both chamber and orchestral music. It was Mozart’s favourite and like the saxophone produced many great jazz players such as Sidney Bechet and Benny Goodman.
There are many different types of clarinet, but the B flat soprano clarinet is by far the most common.
Cheaper clarinets are made from manmade materials and are generally the best choice for beginners. More expensive models are made from hardwoods like ebony and are suitable for more serious playing.
As a beginner’s instrument the clarinet is both quieter and cheaper than the saxophone and, although the fingering is a little more complex, it is easier to produce a basic sound with. It is also lighter and more portable as the instrument separates into five smaller sections to pack away.
Some buying tips
Tip 1. The cheaper models are made of plastic or ABS resin which doesn’t crack, requires less maintenance and is lighter which makes them more suitable for children.
Tip 2. Wooden models normally sound richer, darker and warmer, but will require more maintenance than a plastic instrument.
Tip 3. The key mechanism should be nice and smooth. It shouldn’t rattle and should be able to make a good seal when you press the keys against the body, over the tone holes.
Tip 4. When trying out different clarinets it is advisable to use the same mouthpiece and reed, otherwise the different sounds may just be due to the different mouthpieces.
Tip 5. For smaller children, there are straps available that will help reduce the weight of the instrument and can reduce any chance of repetitive strain injury.
Tip 6. When purchasing the instrument, you need to purchase appropriate cleaning materials. Some clarinet keys have pads to seal the holes, these need to be looked after. A cleaning swab should be used to dry out the instrument after use, which also prolongs pad life.