The clarinet is a musical instrument in the woodwind family. The name derives from adding the suffix -et meaning little to the Italian word clarino meaning a particular trumpet, as the first clarinets had a strident tone similar to that of a trumpet. The instrument has an approximately cylindrical bore, and uses a single reed.


Clarinets actually comprise a family of instruments of differing sizes and pitches. It is the largest such instrument family, with more than two dozen types. Of these many are rare or obsolete, and music written for them is usually played on one of the more common size instruments. The unmodified word clarinet usually refers to the B♭ soprano, by far the most common clarinet. Another common clarinet is the B♭ Bass Clarinet. There are many varieties of clarinets including a smaller E♭ Clarinet. Other common and obsolete members of the clarinet include the A♭ Clarinet, A Clarinet, E♭ Alto Clarinet, E♭ Contralto Clarinet, B♭ Contrabass Clarinet.

Since approximately 1850, clarinets have been nominally tuned according to 12-tone equal-temperament. Older clarinets were nominally tuned to meantone, and a skilled performer can use their embouchure to considerably alter the tuning of individual notes.


The Reed


Reeds for the clarinet come in different strengths. They are usually numbered in steps of 1/2. Softer reeds are numbered lower than harder reeds. A fairly typical reed hardness for beginners is 2 or 2 1/2, while a typical professional classical player may use reeds from 3 1/2 to 4, depending on the player.

A reed is a thin, long piece of cane that is fixed at one end by a ligature and free to vibrate at the other. The clarinet uses what is called a single reed and it is directly responible for the sound that is emitted from the instrument. (Apel, W.,(1972) Harvard Dictionary of Music Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University.) [2]

The Mouthpiece


The mouthpiece is the most important piece of the clarinet, as it produces the clarinet's sound. The reed and ligature are pieces attached to the mouthpiece.

The Ligature


The ligature holds the reed to the mouthpiece and is generally made of metal or leather.

The Embouchure


The embouchure used to play the clarinet can be described as the shape a mouth makes after mouthing Eee-ooo, with the lips stretched and a small opening at the very front of the mouth.

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  1. Insert reference material
  2. Apel,W., (1972) Harvard Dictionary of MusicMassachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University.