In principle, anyone can start playing the clarinet regardless of age. With sensible teaching methods and child-friendly instruments, it's possible for children as young as 7 or 8 to begin their musical journey. It's also common for adults to start later in life. However, more important than age is a passion for the instrument and a strong desire to learn.
Although it's desirable to be able to read music from the start, this skill can be taught during instrumental lessons. Reading music is one of the most important foundational skills in music as it serves as a universal language for communication and expression.
Consider this analogy: music is like a language with its own unique structures and characteristics. To play music together with others, a common language is necessary for expressing and exchanging ideas. Learning to read music is not as daunting as it may seem, and with regular practice, it can become second nature.
The clarinet family is quite extensive, including the standard Bb clarinet, as well as other variations such as the high-pitched Eb clarinet and the deep-toned bass clarinet, which sounds an octave lower than the Bb clarinet. Although there is no difference in fingerings between the Bb clarinet and its relatives, they vary in embouchure and sound character.
A rare member of the clarinet family is the contrabass clarinet, capable of playing even lower than the bass clarinet. Additionally, the saxophone shares similarities in playing technique with the clarinet, making it a popular alternative played by jazz musicians.
When playing the clarinet, the teeth and the size of the hands are particularly important. Children should already have permanent incisors, as they rest directly on the mouthpiece and exert pressure on it.
However, small children's fingers are no longer an obstacle nowadays as special children's clarinets in Bb and C (even smaller) have been developed that are well-suited for small children in their early years. These are shorter and lighter clarinets with smaller distances between the tone holes. Transitioning to the "adult clarinet" later on is possible without any problems.
For children, the physical requirements mentioned must be fulfilled so that an uncomplicated start on the clarinet is possible. From my experience, however, I can say that whether you're a child or an adult, you're ready if you have an interest and fascination for the instrument. These factors are the most decisive.
There are Bb clarinets available at almost every price point. Prices vary depending on the model (number of keys and rings), the material (wood or plastic), and whether the clarinet is a German or French Boehm system. German clarinets are somewhat more expensive, with prices starting at around €800 for student models and going up to the thousands for professional models. A good beginner clarinet with a German system typically costs between €1,400 and €2,500.
Böhm clarinets are somewhat cheaper, with prices ranging from €500 to €5,000 for a professional instrument. Renting a B- or C-children's clarinet (approx. €20-€30/month) is a recommended option, as these instruments are only played until it's possible to change to a standard instrument. It's important to seek advice from your teacher when choosing a suitable instrument.
The biggest ongoing expenses for playing the clarinet are the reeds, which are a crucial part of the mouthpiece. It's important to have multiple reeds available and to replace them regularly. Additionally, there are costs for music books and sheet music. It's recommended to invest in a clarinet stand and a music stand. Over time, general maintenance and minor repairs to the instrument will be necessary.
Furthermore, general maintenance and minor repairs to the instrument should be anticipated over time. It's important to clean the clarinet after each use, avoid setting it on its bell without a stand, and ensure the case is securely closed to prevent the instrument from falling out.
The clarinet reed, which is attached to the mouthpiece and is responsible for producing sound, is the most fragile part of the instrument. The reed is a consumable item and is made of wood that is shaved thinner and thinner towards the tip. It's very delicate and can break easily despite careful handling.
To extend the life of a reed as much as possible, it should be wiped clean after each use and stored in its cover or a case. The frequency of reed replacement depends on factors such as how long you practice each day, how long you've been using the reed, and the thickness of the reed. A tip: alternate between multiple reeds when playing!
The clarinet can be easily transported when disassembled and stored in a convenient case, which can also function as a bag or backpack. It can be carried on foot, by bicycle, or on public transportation. However, the bass clarinet case is much larger and may require special transportation arrangements.
In theory, it is possible to teach yourself to play the clarinet, but it is easier with the help of a teacher. A teacher can guide you from the beginning, helping you avoid developing bad habits in your embouchure, finger positioning, and more. With many years of experience, a teacher can give you tips and tricks and, above all, motivate you to continue learning.
The practice material should allow for gradual development, both musically and technically. It should be challenging but not too difficult. Practice objectives should be achievable yet still challenging. Technical exercises such as scales and finger exercises are essential to expand your skills and serve as the foundation for performance pieces.
Consider playing during the day and adhering to house rules and quiet hours. To avoid conflict with neighbors, have an open conversation and try to find a solution that works for everyone. Playing something on the clarinet for them on special occasions such as Christmas, birthdays, or parties can be a thoughtful gesture of gratitude.
Choosing between the German and Böhm clarinet is an important decision when learning the clarinet. These two clarinet systems differ in key action, fingering, embouchure, and sound.
The German clarinet is preferred in Germany and Austria as well as at the professional level in general. The choice can be made with the guidance of professionals such as clarinet teachers or by considering personal goals and perspectives.
There are many factors to consider for a comprehensive answer such as age, teacher, and practice time, but perseverance and diligence can soon lead to initial progress. The amount of previous knowledge and goals being pursued also plays a role. After only 4-6 weeks, it is possible to play a song or a small solo piece.
There is a vast selection of sheet music for the clarinet across different genres, making it possible for beginners to find varied and interesting pieces. For younger students, I highly recommend Summer Sketches, Musical Time Travel by Paul Harris.
Rudolf Mauz's Easy Concert Pieces volumes contain beautiful recital pieces suitable for pupils of all ages. Although more challenging, Carl Baermann's recital pieces from the Klarinettenschule op.63, the Clarinet Sonatas by Lefèvre nd the cone duets by Mozart are also lovely options that may be suitable for beginners with some previous musical experience.
It is difficult for me to choose a favorite piece. Among the classics for clarinet, I am fond of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, the Clarinet Sonatas by Johannes Brahms, but also the Sonata by Francis Poulenc and the Sonata by Camille Saint-Saëns. These works belong to the classics for clarinet.
...Mozart's Clarinet Concerto. However, I don't want to give too much away. I believe it is worthwhile to listen to this masterpiece and experience the clarinet's expressive capacity, which comes close to that of the human voice.
The clarinet is an ideal instrument for playing in various musical styles and ensembles. Whether it's a symphony orchestra, wind band, big band, or playing classical music, jazz, or klezmer, the clarinet can be played anywhere.
Thanks to its versatile tone, the clarinet can take on any function in an ensemble. It can be used as a radiant solo instrument, accompaniment, or provide a rhythmic or harmonic foundation.
The clarinet choir, which includes all instruments from the high E-flat clarinet to the contrabass clarinet, is a unique ensemble.
The clarinet has the widest range of all woodwind instruments and can produce soft and loud sounds in various registers.
I've frequently heard the statement, "You must blow hard and use a lot of air to produce a tone on the clarinet." However, that is not entirely accurate. Primarily, one must learn how to shape and control their airflow efficiently to play healthily and achieve their unique sound.
Clarinettist Flavia Feudi was born in Rome in 1988 and began playing the clarinet at the age of eight. Her family has a long-standing passion for this instrument as her grandfather and great-grandfather were also amateur clarinetists. Feudi sometimes still performs using her great-grandfather's clarinet, which dates back to 1891.
At age eleven, she started taking lessons at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome with the goal of becoming a professional clarinetist. She continued her studies at the Accademia Chigiana di Siena and the Mozarteum Salzburg, where she earned her Master's degree in 2015. Feudi has been teaching students of all ages for more than six years, in addition to maintaining a busy concert schedule. She also runs her own blog - Das Klarinettenzimmer - which is dedicated to addressing all clarinet-related questions.