Clarinet Overview and History

Chalumeau picture
The Chalumeau

Another single reed instrument called the Chalumeau is where our modern day clarinet comes from. It was originally a shepherd’s instrument intended for solo playing. The player covered combinations of holes with the fingers to produce different notes of a scale (later, they covered keys). In the 17th century, the clarinet was invented by Johann Christoph Denner and his son, Jacob. They added two keys, including the innovative register key, which increased the range of the chalumeau by over two octaves. The mouthpiece also was improved and the bell’s shape was changed. The lower register of the clarinet is still known as the “chalumeau register.”

Where to Purchase

Local dealers are: The Music Academy of ChelmsfordUniversity Music, and Music and Arts.


Some instruments are written in concert pitch. This means that when that specific instrument plays a “C”, a “C” comes out. To transpose means that the player is playing an instrument that sounds a different pitch (higher or lower) than the pitch they are presently reading on the staff. Clarinetists sound one step lower than written. If you play a “C”, a “B-flat” is the sounding pitch. When directed to play a “Concert B-flat”, you will play a “C” to correctly play the requested note.

Clarinet Brands and Models for Beginners

Buffet Premium Student B-flat Clarinet
Yamaha YCL255
Buffet B12
Jupiter JCL6375

Clarinet Brands and Models for Intermediate Players

Buffet E12 Intermediate Clarinet
Buffet R13 Advanced Clarinet
Buffet Prestige R13 Advanced Clarinet

Instrument Assembly and Hand Position

Parts of the Clarinet

Step 1: Take your reed out of its case and start soaking the shaved part in your mouth to moisten it. Store your reeds in a proper reed case, not the little plastic case it comes in. A reed case will adequately dry out the reed when you’re done!

Step 2: Open the clarinet case on a stable surface.

Step 3: Apply cork grease to all four cork rings (one on the lower joint, two on the upper joint, and one on the mouthpiece. The cork grease should be rubbed in with the fingers, kind of like putting chapstick on your lips. This grease allows for the different sections of the clarinet to smoothly connect and seal tightly to one another with minimal friction. It is not necessary to add cork grease each time the clarinet is set up but is critical when setting up a clarinet with new cork rings.

Step 4: Take out the bell and lower joint sections. Hold the lower joint and gently twist the bell onto the cork ring until it is completely on.

Step 5: Remove the upper joint from the case and hold it in your left hand. It is important to press down on the ring holes to obtain a good grip and to lift the bridge key- careful, it bends easily! Carefully twist the upper joint onto the lower joint with careful attention to not bend the bridge keys.

Step 6: Take the barrel out of the case, examine both sides of it. Find the end with the larger opening and carefully twist the barrel onto the upper joint.

Step 7: Take the mouthpiece out of the case and carefully twist it on to the top of the barrel. The ligature should not be on the mouthpiece at this point!

Step 8: The reed! Line up the top of the reed with the top of the mouthpiece (both of them are rounded, and be sure to place the reed onto the clarinet with the flat side on the mouthpiece). CAREFULLY place the ligature over the reed so that the screws are facing to the right. Tighten the ligature screws so that they are firmly holding the reed in place, but not too tightly.

Reeds: Be sure that you are not using the same reed for too long! If you play every day, you will most likely go through one reed every 5-7 days. Playing on the same reed for too long can make your sound suffer, and you could actually get yourself sick!

Clarinet Hand Position and Posture

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Embouchure and Sound Production

The “embouchure” (pronounced ahm-boo-sure) is the way a musician applies their mouth to the mouthpiece of their instrument. All wind musicians must work very hard to build muscle memory in the jaw and mouth so that your sound is consistently of good quality.


Step 1: Your bottom lip is a cushion. Do not put it in your mouth. Touch your bottom lip to your teeth. You want the fattest part of your lip on the sharpest part of your teeth

Step 2: Start with placing the mouthpiece on the bottom lip first; Top teeth touch lightly, then seal the entire mouthpiece with your lips.

Step 3: Hold the bell in your right hand (only); Lift the clarinet to a 90 degree angle (instrument seems much heavier). Then, bring the clarinet down so that it is at a 45 degree angle from your body.

Step 4: Say the word “protrude”. Your jaw moves forward!

Step 5: Take your top teeth and secure them on the top of the mouthpiece. You will want this bite to be firm, but not extremely tight.

Sep 6: Place the mouthpiece on the bottom lip “cushion.”

Creating a sound: 
Close your lips around your mouthpiece. Apply equal pressure around the mouthpiece. The corners of your lips should close firmly in order to create a seal around the mouthpiece. As your teacher or responsible adult to try and move your mouthpiece around. It shouldn’t go anywhere! Take a deep, relaxed breath, set your embouchure and blow across the reed. Congratulations! You’ve made your first sound!


Articulation is the way your tongue makes contact with the inside of your mouth and with your instrument in order to change styles or note lengths. When tonging on a clarinet, your tongue will contact the reed where it naturally does if you whisper the syllable “dah”. A phrase we will often use in rehearsals is “tip of the tongue to the tip of the reed.”

Out of Tune Notes

On the clarinet, there are a few notes that are notoriously out of tune. Here are the notes that are the major problems, and how to fix them!

Clarinet Very Sharp
These notes are very sharp on the clarinet. Adjust by relaxing your jaw and use slightly less pressure on the reed/mouthpiece. Use a tuner to give yourself a reference.
Clarinet Moderately Sharp
These notes are typically sharp on the clarinet. “Lip the note down” by using a bit less tension on your mouthpiece/reed. Use a tuner for a reference.
Clarinet Slightly Sharp
These notes are slightly sharp. Use the same skills as above to adjust, but use a tuner for a reference.
Clarinet Slightly Flat
These notes are typically flat on the clarinet. Voice the note higher by using a bit more pressure on the mouthpiece/reed (this is called “lipping the note up”). Use a tuner for a reference.

Clarinet Fingering Chart

Click here to download your own Yamaha Clarinet Fingering Chart!

Clarinet Fingering Chart 1Clarinet Fingering Chart 2

Maintenance and Care

It is important to swab your clarinet out after each practice session, concert, or rehearsal. I recommend purchasing a silk clarinet swab that you can keep in your case. Run it through your instrument to remove moisture after playing.

Reeds: Be sure that you are not using the same reed for too long! If you play every day, you will most likely go through one reed every 5-7 days. Playing on the same reed for too long can make your sound suffer, and you could actually get yourself sick!

Notable Clarinet Players

Ricardo Morales

Scott Wright

Ray Chapa

Julian Bliss

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A project by Allison Lacasse: 3rd year Practical Application project for completion of a Masters Degree in Music Education at the American Band College of Central Washington University (2018).