This week I am continuing my series of posts of fun and fascinating facts about different musical instruments, with another member of the woodwind family – the clarinet.
What Is The Clarinet and how do you play it?
- The clarinet is a member of the woodwind family. That means it is an instrument that you use wind, or rather your own air (by blowing air down the instrument) to make it make a sound.
- Someone who plays clarinet is called a clarinetist. Or a clarinet player!
- When they were first invented, woodwind instruments were generally made out of wood, hence the name, and the clarinet is no different.
- It is a reed instrument with a single reed that is placed at the mouthpiece. Other reed instruments include the saxophone, oboe and bassoon.
- To play the clarinet, players blow through the reed, making the reed vibrate and the vibrations then travel down the tubing of the clarinet and escape at the end.
- The clarinet has a number of different registers of notes that it can play, and each one of these registers has a name – like the Chalumeau register for the lowest notes the instrument can play, the clarion register which can sound rather trumpet-like, and the altissimo (or “extremely high” register for, yes you guessed it, the highest notes it can play.
- The clarinet that is most commonly used in orchestras or bands is the Bb or A clarinets, with the Bb clarinet as the most common. This means that for these clarinets, if a clarinetist plays the note C that is written in the music, then it will sound the same as a Bb on the piano when playing the Bb clarinet, or as an A on the piano when playing the A clarinet.
- The name clarinet comes from the Italian word clarino, a word to describe a trumpet from the 17th century.
History of the Clarinet
- The clarinet comes from an old French instrument that was known as the Chalumeau, this is where the lower register of the clarinet got its name.
- In the 1700s, Johann Christoph Denner changed the Chalumeau, extending its range by adding additional keys and a bell at the end of the instrument.
- There are many musical instrument makers and inventors who have had an influence on the clarinet, shaping it into the instrument that we know and use today, including Adolphe Sax, who went on to invent the saxophone.
- The clarinet was an instrument that was influential in the development of jazz, and especially the era of swing music in the 1930s and 40s.
- The smallest clarinet that you can buy is a piccolo clarinet in Ab, available from a specialist maker based in France. You can even buy tiny reeds and mouthpieces to play this small instrument.
- The World Record for the longest time that anyone has played a clarinet whilst upside down is 2 minutes and 17.03 seconds. This rather bizarre World Record is held by Caitlin A, who recorded the achievement on 31 May 2017 in the USA.
- Another American World Record is one for the largest clarinet ensemble. Recorded in July 2019, 367 performers took part performing at ClarinetFest together in Knoxville Tennessee.
- The most expensive clarinet in the world is valued at $35,775 and is a Selmer Paris Model 41 Contrabass Clarinet.
Famous Clarinet Players
- Today the most famous clarinetists are probably people like jazz musicians Benny Goodman, Acker Bilk, but in the classical world famous clarinet players include Sabine Meyer and Sharon Kam.
- Did you know that there are a number of people famous for other things who also play clarinet? People like Woody Allen, Julia Roberts, Eva Longoria and Steven Spielberg?
Here are a couple of my favourite pieces of music featuring the clarinet. They also happen to be probably some of the most famous pieces featuring this instrument:
2nd Movement of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto in A Major
Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin
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