General information and resources for students and adult learners.

How the Clarinet Works

The holes on a clarinet are either covered by padded keys or left open until covered (stopped) by the player's fingers.
  • Sound is created when a single thin, flat slip of cane (the reed) is made to vibrate by the player blowing through the solid mouthpiece. The reed is pressed against the lower lip, while the player's top teeth bite down on to the mouthpiece.
  • The sound is amplified down the length of the tube, while the pitch of the note is dependent on how many and which holes are covered or left open. We change pitch on a clarinet by covering or uncovering holes. This changes how much air there is inside. The clarinet produces its lowest pitch when all the holes are closed. This is the longest possible length of air it can hold.
  • Clarinet players cover finger holes with their fingertips. They use both fingertips and knuckles to press keys. Each key is attached to a lever. the lever presses a felt pad firmly over a hole, covering it. Springs move the pad off the hole once the key is released. The rings operates as keys. They open or close other holes whenparticular fingering is used.
  • A good mouth position helps to produce a beautiful sound. It can also help you reach very high notes. You fold your lower lip over your lower teeth, bite gently on the mouthpiece, smile slightly and blow! It sounds tricky, but practice can help get it right.
  • Clarinet players should always blow air into the mouthpiece from their lungs, not from puffed-out cheeks. They can blow for longer and play longer notes. When you puff out your cheeks, your lower lip gets floopy. It then vibrates with the reeds as you play. This affects the sound you made.
  • The best way to play a clarinet is to stand or sit up straight. Hold the instrument pointing downwards, about halfway between horizontal and vertical. This position helps you breathe better than if you are slouched.
Parts of the Clarinet

  1. Mouthpiece - the mouthpiece has a slanted top. A large hole underneath is covered by the reed. A metal or plastic cove protects the reed from damage
  2. Barrel - is the short, fat part after the mouthpiece.
  3. Upper and lower joints have finger holes and keys to change notes. Clarinetists keep their hands in the same position on the instrument as they play.
  4. Keys - the keys allow the clarinet players to play lots of notes without having to shift their hands.
  5. Bell - the bell is the curved piece on the bottom end of the clarinet where the sound comes out. The hole inside is wider than in the barrel.

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