Right off the bat, we can tell you the clarinet is not an extraordinarily difficult instrument to learn. Yes, there are certain technicalities you must understand to become a proficient clarinet player. Yes, there is a learning curve you must go through to master the instrument. But, at the heart of it, the clarinet is simply another musical instrument you must dedicate time and effort to before you can master.
One of the many questions beginner clarinetist ask is the famous ‘is the clarinet hard to play?’. Well, this question is anything if not perfectly understandable. After all, the clarinet is in a class of its own as the woodwind instrument with the largest pitch range. But, the truth is learning the clarinet is not any harder than learning the next instrument.
Indeed, one of the more challenging parts of learning the clarinet is figuring out how to make it sound the right way. From there, we’d love to tell you it is smooth sailing, but it’s really not. If you want to develop any commendable skill with the clarinet, you’d have to commit some of your time to it. In other words, it takes a significant amount of dedication to become a pro clarinetist.
But, this is not to say the clarinet is more problematic than every other instrument.
However, there is a lot more to the clarinet than puffing air and moving your fingers around. While you can scale by a beginner by playing on only two octaves, climbing the mastery ladder is another ball game. To become a professional clarinetist, you will have to pay attention to finer details like its tone, dynamics, and of course, accurate tuning.
This brings us to our next point.
What Is The Most Technical Part of Learning The Clarinet?
If you are wondering what the most challenging part of the clarinet learning curve is, you’re not alone. Countless other amateur clarinet enthusiasts have wondered the same thing. Fortunately, you’re in the right place to find answers.
We can confidently tell you that the clarinet learning curve’s most technical part is mastering the range. You see, of all the woodwind instruments, the clarinet has the widest pitch range. It has four octaves to itself! We may as well break it to you. You’d have to master all the pitch ranges if you want to become a master of the clarinet.
As if that isn’t enough, the organization of keys on this particular instrument can make playability tricky sometimes. Moreover, the clarinet essentially has a straight cylindrical bore, and its principle of playing is the twelfths. The implication of this is that you will need a uniquely different fingering to play on each octave.
There is also the fact that you have to cover the holes on the clarinet with your fingers. Unlike other woodwind instruments, the clarinet does not have keys you can simply push. To top it all off, the clarinet has side keys (not on top), which you play with the edges of your fingers.
While all these can seem like insurmountable obstacles in your path to mastering the clarinet’s range, they are really not. We’re not only saying this because we are a group of clarinetists. No, the truth is countless before we all have mastered the clarinet. So, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We can learn from them and then improve upon what we gain.
In case you didn’t get the point we just tried to make, here it is more plainly — you can master the clarinet’s pitch. However, you will need to give some of your precious time and energy.
You see, the key-work of each clarinet determines the lower part of the instrument’s written range. Most times, a standard key-work scheme will allow a low E on the more popular B-flat clarinet. However, the transposition on the particular clarinet is what defines the lowest concert pitch.
Furthermore, the highest note on a B-flat clarinet is an entire semitone more than the oboe’s highest. But, this rule is not always absolute. Sometimes, the skill of the player and instrument set-up can influence the outcome of the note. However, the lowest note on the same B-flat clarinet is lower than that of the oboe. The reason is simple — the clarinet has a more comprehensive pitch range!
Most piccolo and soprano clarinets have unique key set-ups such that the E below Middle C is the lowest written note they have. Pretty neat, right? Interestingly, some B-flat clarinets can go all the way to E (B-flat 3) such that they match an A clarinet’s range.
That’s enough talk about the clarinet’s lowest range. Let us examine the higher ends of its note spectrum. Mastering the top range of a clarinet can be quite challenging. But once you do, you’ll realize that it is worth all the sweat and hassle. Indeed, many advanced clarinetists consistently produce notes higher than the highest in most method books.
In other words, since G6 is typically the highest note in most clarinet teaching manuals, pro players can hit c⁷. This is the C on the fifth ledger line above the treble clef. Some fingering charts may even show you notes as high as A7!
Understandably, the thought of trying to master all the ranges of the clarinet can be scary, especially in the beginning. But once you keep in mind that it is, in fact, possible, you should be fine.
To help you, here is a quick breakdown of the ranges of a clarinet. There are three significant registers you should know:
- The Lower Register: This ranges from the low E (written) to the B-flat about the middle C (B-flat⁴, also written). Experts refer to this register as the Chalumeau. You will usually hear sounds in this register as dark and rich. Fun fact? This name came from the instrument that preceded the clarinet.
- The Middle Register: The formal name of this register is the Clarion or the Clarino (from the Italians). This register spans from the written B above the middle C (B⁴) all the way to the C, which is two octaves above middle C (C⁶). The Clarion register is generally the most dominant range in the clarinet family. Also, the sounds in this register are bright and sweet-sounding.
- The Top Register: Experts call this one the Altissimo. The register consists of notes higher than the written C, which is two whole octaves above the middle C (C⁶). Typically, sounds from the Altissimo register fall under the category of shrill and piercing.
The belief that the clarinet is a harder instrument to play is nothing but a myth. Hopefully, we have been able to clear the air on that. Like every other skill, to attain any level of mastery while playing the clarinet, you will need considerable practice. No one wakes with pro clarinet prowess or any other instrument, for that matter.
So, if you are taking up the clarinet as your preferred instrument, we congratulate you! You have made a fantastic choice. Now, all that is left is to commit to the learning curve, and you’ll be playing clarinet tunes in no time. Good luck, and have fun playing!