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How to Play Clarinet: A Beginner’s Guide to the Basics

How to play clarinet

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The Clarinet is a musical instrument with a reed and mouthpiece that creates a beautiful, clear sound. If you’ve just started to play or are interested in playing, congratulations on beginning your musical journey!

The clarinet is one of the many great woodwind instruments for beginners and one of the most interesting ones to play.

It can help you to watch some videos of how people play the instrument so you can mimic their movements and stature. Take notes as you watch to refer back to them when practicing.

How To Play a Clarinet for Beginners

While there are many ways to learn how to play, the guide below will help you understand the clarinet fundamentals. Learning how to assemble the instrument, hold it properly, and make the most even tone with your air is necessary. Let’s dive in!

Correct Body Position

You must work with the correct position of your body. You should be holding the clarinet away from yourself when learning to play, around a 45-degree angle. The bell should just be past your knees at this downward angle.

Keep your head up and your back straight. If you’re seated when playing, you should have your feet properly set on the floor, slightly apart. You can also stand while playing, but it’s best if you learn how to play it both seated and standing, so you can have more versatility.

The Right Hand Position

Your clarinet should be held with your right hand on the bottom stack of the player and your thumb on the thumb rest (located on the back of the stack). The other three fingers on your right hand should be resting on and ready to play the three keyholes in the front.

The Left Hand Position

For your left hand, you need to hold the instrument at the top since the right hand will be on the bottom.

Your left thumb should be resting on the octave key located at the back of the clarinet. The other three fingers should be resting on and ready to play the three main keys that are on the bottom of the top part of your instrument.

Check out this line of clarinet players to give you an idea of where to put your hands when learning to play:

playing clarinet

Lip and Tongue Positioning

Now it’s time to put the horn in your mouth, but before you begin to push out the air, take a deep breath. Say the word “zoo” and hold that shape with your bottom lip. The shape that you hold and make when playing is known as your embouchure.

Your jaw should be flat, and the top teeth on the top of your mouthpiece. Just putting the horn in your mouth and blowing won’t work, and there won’t be any good sound that comes out. You need to make the right shape with your mouth.

You want to seal the corners of your mouth around the mouthpiece. If you’re not sealing, the air can escape from the sides, and your clarinet won’t make a sound. You can work on lifting the corners of your mouth to tighten your grip around the mouthpiece. Your tongue position should pointed at the reed, but not touching it.

Proper Breathing Techniques

It’s necessary to go over the right breathing techniques for blowing into your instrument. Keep your cheeks tight instead of having them puff out when you take a deep breath. Your tone will be more consistent if you don’t put so much air in your mouth.

You’re likely going to squeak when you start pushing the air down the barrel, but don’t be discouraged by this because it’s what usually happens.

Continue to check your mouth and how it’s placed, and ensure your reed is lined up correctly. You can begin to blow with your mouth in position and work to get an even tone.

Experiment with your breath, and see how much air it takes for you to get a good sound or a clear, consistent tone from the horn. When you’re not pushing down any notes with your hands, you’ll be playing the open G on your clarinet.

How to Blow into the Clarinet

​Start by pushing down on some keys to explore different notes, and see how it changes how you blow into your clarinet. Where you place your mouth is crucial, so it can help to look in a mirror and make sure you’re taking in deep breaths, not puffing out the cheeks, and working to create a consistent, even sound.

You may hear yourself squeak as you get the hang of it. If you notice there is a lot of squeaking, check where your mouth is placed on the mouthpiece. You may need to move it up or down.

Basic Fingering Techniques

Now that you’ve mastered the holding and blowing into your clarinet steps, the next part you need to put your focus on is your fingering. It’s most helpful if you get a fingering chart, which you can find at a local music store or online.

There are some commonly used clarinet books that can help you get started. Cover the holes on the upper joint first, then the lower, going one note at a time. It’s necessary for you to cover each hole entirely because if they aren’t sealed, you’ll have trouble creating sound.

With fingering, you’ll begin by playing through scales and arpeggios. There are a lot of keys on the clarinet, but each finger has its own designated place. The fingering for clarinet applies to all sizes, including soprano, alto, bass, and contrabass clarinets.

Each fingering is split up by a register, with ranges that are notated. Remember your hand placement which will help you to place your three fingers in the front over the correct holes, or keys, for your sound production.

Playing Basic Notes on the Clarinet

Clarinet players oven inhale through the mouth, but new students should work just to make their good embouchure and not move it, so start by inhaling through the nose until you get the hang of creating the right pitch.

Using a tuning app or a piano, experiment and try to play the notes that you hear. Work on mastering each note and matching the pitch before you move to the next one.

Learning sheet music is going to help your playing style and your methods of creating the best sound. It may help to visit the local music store and check out a book on playing the clarinet or one that contains a lot of beginner sheet music for the clarinet.

The easiest way you’ll learn the clarinet is by working with a trained professional. Taking private music lessons ensures you’ll progress and learn clarinet the best way.

Essential Clarinet Basics

The clarinet has a versatile sound that can work with many genres, including jazz, classical, and more. Some helpful tips to work with as a beginner player learning the best playing style include:

  • Don’t be afraid of the mouthpiece: Beginners often hesitate when blowing or putting their mouth completely sealed on the mouthpiece and reed. Place your top teeth a half inch from the tip of the mouthpiece, and go for it!
  • Use the “C” hand position: keep your hands tight on the instrument but loose. It may take some time to get comfortable with this, but a helpful tip is to go to the “C” position, where the curve from the index finger to the thumb makes a wide “C” shape.
  • Blow harder: An important point to remember is that you need to push out enough air to make the sound, and it will need adjusting for different types of clarinets. Don’t be afraid to blow more and practice it!
How to Play Clarinet: A Beginner's Guide to the Basics 1

There is no age limit to learning the fundamentals of the clarinet, so if you’re older, it’s not too late to pick it up and begin! Basic music theory is a necessary part of learning the clarinet, but before you dive into your theory and sheet music, there are main parts of the instrument you must know.

Parts of the Clarinet and Their Functions

Learning your instrument is the best way to know how to use it properly. With the clarinet, there are many different parts. Most come in carrying cases with fitted slots for each part of the instrument. The main parts include:

  • The Bell – the bottom part that looks like the shape of a horn.
  • The Bottom stack or joint, which is the main body of the clarinet and has a corn connection piece on one end.
  • The Top stack or joint, the other main part of the clarinet with a cork on both ends that you have to line up on the metal hinge for both pieces.
  • The mouthpiece, which is the topmost section with a metal or leather ligature, is used to hold your reed in place.

But what do all of these parts do? You must take the next step to learn how to assemble your instrument.

Assembling a Clarinet

Starting with the bell, you need to attach it to the bottom stack, pushing and twisting the bell back and forth and holding the bottom stack securely. You may need to grease the corks a bit to make them easier to put together, and you can do it with just a little bit of petroleum jelly. Hold down the bridge keys and then attach the two stacks (or joints) together.

Grip the lower stack with your right hand and the upper with your left hand. Then, align both of them correctly by watching the metal bar that runs the length of the instrument lines up.

Next, attach your barrel to the top of the horn, which is an easy part. Then you need to prepare the mouthpiece. Prepare your reed by getting it wet – most beginners start by submerging it in water while you work on the rest of the assembly.

Then, you need to slide your reed between the ligature and mouthpiece with the flat part facing inward. Tighten the ligature nobs until it’s tight enough that it won’t move.

Try not to overtighten since it can strain the mouthpiece. Then you can attach the mouthpiece to your barrel, and you’re ready to go!

If it’s your first time, your best technique is working with an expert. They can provide the best tips for assembling and practicing your instrument.

Understanding Clarinet Scales

Learning scales is part of your basic music theory and helps you understand how the music is put together. Scales are the building blocks of any instrument, including those part of the woodwind family, like the clarinet and flute.

Playing scales helps you to understand key signatures and expand your knowledge while helping you progress in your learning.

It can help you to start with learning key signatures by recognizing the flats and sharps of notes. Get a feel for how the scale is supposed to sound by working in a pattern going up and down each scale, starting with the easiest.

For a B-flat clarinet, you should learn the B-flat major scale, which actually starts and ends on the C note, and all keys are played naturally without any sharps or flats. Other basic scales include the E flat scale, the A flat scale, and the F scale.

Before even playing a song, it’s essential for you to learn scales. It will increase your ability to read music and do well in auditions, as well as practice high notes by working on scales in two octaves.

Reading Sheet Music

When you are ready to start playing songs, it’s best to start off with songs you’re familiar with because it can help you learn to read sheet music more quickly. There are plenty of popular jazz, swing, chamber music, and even pop songs you can put in your repertoire.

Even as a beginner, the best thing you can do for yourself is to learn to read sheet music more effectively by working with a music educator and taking private clarinet lessons.

While you are able to teach yourself and can learn a lot through online videos and tutorials, you don’t always know if you’re executing the things you learn properly. A teacher can help guide you through reading notes correctly but also help you with things like posture and fingering, which are hard to gauge on your own.

playing clarinet

Choosing Your First Clarinet

If you need help choosing your first instrument, you should consider renting a clarinet. Check with a local music store or with musicians in the area. Trying out different types of clarinets before buying the one that suits you best is also helpful.

Types of Clarinets and Their Differences

There are five types of clarinets for you to choose from, outlined below:

  • B flat clarinet – the most widely used and popular, it’s used in orchestras, bands, jazz ensembles, and more. It has a single reed and suits those who want to play a versatile instrument, usually recommended for beginners.
  • E-flat clarinet – a more minor member of the woodwind family, this pitch is in e-flat, hence the name. It plays a much higher range than the b-flat, is flexible, and is known for its response across registers.
  • A clarinet – the A clarinet is lower than the B-flat, usually for pieces with sharm notes or those with a deeper pitch.
  • Bass clarinet – it’s pitch in B-flat but plays a much lower range of notes and is larger than the B-flat clarinet. Popular among jazz musicians.
  • Contro-alto clarinet – This is set at a pitch 5th blow the Bb bass clarinet, making it the lowest-producing sound.

Factors to Consider When Buying

It can be helpful to start with a plastic clarinet since it’s less costly and less maintenance is involved. However, a wooden clarinet does produce a better sound, so it may be preferable down the road.

For an older or younger student, it can help to begin with plastic. Plastic is also preferred if you’re participating in a marching band or using it outdoors, as wooden clarinets are more sensitive to temperature changes.

Proper Care and Maintenance

Some helpful tips to help care for and maintain your clarinet include the following:

  • Replace any torn pads since they can buzz when you play.
  • Clean your mouthpiece with a tiny bit of mild soap and water or a wet Q-tip (don’t use anything abrasive)
  • Keep your clarinet securely in the case when not using or when transporting so as not to expose it to elements.
  • Keep your hands (and mouth) clean when playing to ensure your holes don’t get gummed up.
  • Use cork grease to avoid bending keys when you assemble the clarinet.

If you need help with any of your maintenance care, you should visit a woodwind expert technician to ensure you’re keeping up with it properly.

Advancing Beyond the Basics

If you haven’t already figured out, there are many steps to learning assembly, care, and playing for your clarinet. Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, you should explore options for progressing into more challenging music.

Taking Clarinet Lessons

To get the best possible outcome, you should take clarinet lessons to ensure you do all the steps correctly. An instructor can quickly adapt to your best learning techniques and help enhance your clarinet playing.

Playing the correct position, with the proper fingering, and even the assembly of your instrument can cause the sound to suffer. You also won’t get very far if you have a set routine and lots of practice time to help you advance.

Tips to Improve Finger Agility

Practicing trills is a great way to get your fingers moving when playing the clarinet. Using each finger, you can quickly move your finger slightly when holding down the note to get that trill sound.

Your littlest finger (the pinky) will be the most challenging when you’re working on agility. Consider incorporating some of these tips to help:

  • Finger lifts – placing your palm on a flat surface, work on lifting one finger at a time and lowering it.
  • Get a finger gripper or strengthened.
  • Work with a stress ball.

Mastering High and Low Notes

Air support will be your best friend when you advance your skills to higher and lower notes on your clarinet. You need good airspeed to produce the high notes in the upper register.

Warm-ups, exercises, and many hours of practice can help you master the higher and lower registers with notes. Your music instructor can also provide helpful tools and resources to advance your clarinet skills beyond the basics.

Ready to Play Clarinet

Now, you should feel ready to assemble, practice, and play the clarinet. Begin with songs you like and know, so you’ll work at learning them. With some effort and help from a professional teacher, you can play the clarinet like a pro in no time!

One Response

  1. All good info. Missed the first step.how to adjust the darn reed. should have a slight space at end of mouthpiece, overlap, how tight to clamp etc….? Breath and mouth shape all ok missed the part you blow into! LOVE and good with my harmonica, been told I’m sounding like a pro.cant get first sound on clarinet

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