How to play the clarinet (with pictures)

How to play the clarinet (with pictures)
How to play the clarinet (with pictures)

Part of the woodwind family, the clarinet produces beautiful and rich tones. Without being the easiest musical instrument to play, the clarinet is undoubtedly one of the most interesting thanks to its extraordinary register. If you want to play the clarinet, you must first learn how to put it together, hold it, and play notes. Then you need to maintain it carefully, because it is a noble and fragile instrument.


Part 1 of 3: Getting to Know the Clarinet

Play the Clarinet Step 1

Step 1. Choose the model that's right for you

If you are starting to play at a conservatory or at a school, it may be a good idea to rent the instrument from a music store or if possible from the organization where you will be learning. It is indeed much better to use a regularly maintained clarinet than to have an old one in your hands. Renting it is cheaper than buying one and if you don't continue, you won't have spent much.

  • To start, it is possible to have a plastic clarinet. 2 popular models are the Yamaha 255 and the Buffet-Crampon B 12, but to start with, opt for a plastic model, as it will be much easier to play and maintain than having a wooden instrument. Choose medium-soft (flexible) reeds of strength 2 to 2 1/2.
  • If you have an old clarinet and want to use it, have it examined by a specialist (a luthier or postman) or take it to a music store, because to produce a correct tone and play in good conditions, you need to make sure that the stamps and keys are in good condition.
  • Avoid instruments from unknown brands, they are more economical, but generally of poor quality. Talk to a musician or a luthier …
Play the Clarinet Step 2

Step 2. Learn what are its components

A clarinet is normally supplied with a case in which there are places to store the different parts of the instrument. Before you start to assemble it, check that all the parts are in the case. To proceed with the assembly of the clarinet, the following elements must be assembled (from top to bottom).

  • The pavilion is the first part. It's at the end and that's where the notes you make come out.
  • The lower body (or right hand body) is the centerpiece of your instrument. At one end, you can see a cork piece used to connect this element with its structural complement.
  • The upper body (or left hand body) is the 2nd major part of the clarinet. You can see that there is a piece of cork at each of its 2 ends. To assemble the 2 parts of the body, synchronize the rings based on their correspondence (there is one on the lower body and on the upper body, allowing them to be united).
  • The barrel (or barrel) is a short piece of about 10 cm in length. It is a bit narrower on one side than the other. Join it to the upper body.
  • The last element is the beak. There is a cork on one side and the opening on the other end is where you will blow to produce the notes. The beak is surrounded by a ligature which is usually metallic. It is used to maintain the reed. Unite the mouthpiece to the barrel by aligning it with the octave key.

Step 3. Fit the reed correctly on the mouthpiece

Loosen the ligature and place the reed between it and the mouthpiece with the flat side of the reed facing the latter. Now tighten the ligature to hold the reed in place, but do not over tighten, as these parts are fragile. When loosening the ligature, be careful not to turn too much, because if you drop the screws it will be very difficult to put them back in place.

  • Line up the end of the reed perfectly with the end of the mouthpiece opening or you will have a hard time producing any tones. They must be completely aligned.
  • The end of the mouthpiece is very fragile, so when you are not playing, do not forget to protect it with its cap.
Play the Clarinet Step 4

Step 4. Learn to hold the instrument properly

Hold the clarinet away from your body at a 45 degree angle, and the bell should come just below your knees. When playing, hold your body straight and your head high. Remember that it is for the clarinet to come up to your mouth, not for your mouth to approach it.

  • Your right hand will be placed on the lower body (the body of the right hand) and you will press your thumb on the thumb rest provided for this purpose (at the back of the body). The index, middle, ring and little fingers will rest on the keys. The index can act on 2 keys which are very close to each other.
  • The left hand will position itself on the upper body (the body of the left hand) with the thumb resting on the hole located next to the octave key (or key of 12e) on the back of the body and the other fingers will be responsible for pressing and releasing the keys located on the front.
  • When your fingers are not pressing keys, always try to keep them very close to them. This will make it easier for you to move them quickly when needed. If your fingers are too far from the keys, you will have difficulty playing fast phrases.

Step 5. Wet the reed

Before playing and placing the reed on the mouthpiece, moisten it with saliva by putting it in your mouth and pulling it out, squeezing your wet lips a little. If you play with a dry reed, you will quack and have serious difficulty producing notes.

  • To start, preferably use soft, soft or medium-soft reeds, ranging from strength 1 to 2 1/2. Gradually, your lips will adopt a better position and you can try harder reeds.
  • If you have a teacher, he will tell you when it is necessary to replace the reeds. If not, you'll find that now is the time to switch to harder reeds when the tone you produce sounds like someone's voice speaking with their nostrils plugged.

Step 6. Always clean your clarinet after playing

To keep the instrument in good condition, it is essential to always disassemble it and clean all parts carefully to remove moisture from your saliva. It's quick and easy.

  • Normally, your clarinet will be delivered to you with a cleaning kit including a swab, a tool for cleaning the inside of the body of the instrument. Sometimes it can be a soft cloth attached to a string that you pass through the body and then pull the cloth. At first it will seem off-putting to you, but with a little experience you will do it very quickly. This is a very important operation to keep your clarinet in good condition.
  • It is also helpful to occasionally use a cotton swab to clean parts like junction points and key joints where saliva collects.
  • Remember to grease the corks regularly with special cork grease or tallow. If you let the corks dry out, it will become more and more difficult for you to assemble your instrument. If you play on a daily basis, you should take care of the corks about once a week. Do not apply too much grease, however, as the elements could separate when you play! Put a little (very little) of fat on a cork and spread it over its entire surface with your thumb.

Part 2 of 3: playing the clarinet

Play the Clarinet Step 7

Step 1. Place your mouth properly over the spout

This procedure is called the mouthpiece. The position of the lips is very important and the accuracy and quality of the sound you will produce depend on it. You will have to work it without ever tensing yourself up. Here's how to do it.

  • Take a deep breath and drop your shoulders, retaining the air in your lungs. Flip your lower lip over your teeth and place the beak there. Then press the teeth of the upper jaw against the bevel of the beak.
  • The incisors of your upper jaw are now approximately 1 cm from the tip of the mouthpiece, so you are holding the instrument firmly.

Step 2. Lower your upper lip

Completely surround the spout with your upper lip, there should be no air leakage. Then stretch your lips without tensing (you don't want to form a hen's ass) and pull your tongue up so that it points and presses the reed against the mouthpiece. Then send the air into your mouth without swelling the cheeks.

It will take you some time to find the right position (the right positions), the clarinet being one of the most complex instruments at this point. By taking a few classes, you will get there much faster than alone at home

Step 3. Try to produce a note

Breathe out trying to produce a note. Blow more or less hard and try to feel how much air you need to expel to produce a continuous sound. Persevere. It is quite normal that you do not succeed immediately, it will take some practice. If you blow without pressing any key, you should normally produce a sol.

Don't be discouraged if you hear sounds that resemble the screams of characters from the Star Wars movie! It is difficult to find the correct lip positions on a clarinet. Go on and experiment by expelling different amounts of air and you will get there …

Step 4. Do not puff up the cheeks

Even though it's tempting to puff up your cheeks like a frog while blowing, you will get a much better, consistent sound without doing this. To avoid this problem, practice playing in front of a mirror.

In the beginning, you will make a lot of hiccups. If this happens overly, watch how you position your mouth over the mouthpiece of the instrument and make sure it isn't a bit too low or too high. Also check that the reed is correctly placed on the mouthpiece. A teacher could confirm this quickly

Step 5. Play some notes

Once you get to producing a consistent tone, press certain keys with your fingers and listen to the result. Pay attention to how much air you need to expel based on the keys you press and try to determine how you get a lower or higher note. Experiment and have fun!

To play, completely cover the holes on the keys or you will not produce any notes, especially when playing low notes. Make sure you cover the holes in all keys perfectly

Part 3 of 3: Take it to the next level

Play the Clarinet Step 12

Step 1. Obtain a fingering chart

Your best bet is to go to a store selling clarinet sheet music and see what they have available. There are different methods called preparatory, beginner, elementary … The ABC of the clarinet is a good method available for free on the internet, but if you wish, you will find others by doing a search with our friend Google.

It will be difficult for you to progress without reading the musical notes. There are different types of clarinets, but the most common is that in Bb (B flat). Learning to read the notes in the treble clef can help you in any case. Taking lessons will allow you to progress quickly, you can also try to get into a beginners orchestra

Step 2. Work the scales

To improve your technique, it is important to work on scales as well as arpeggios in order to familiarize yourself with the instrument. Knowing the fingerings is essential to improve your technique and to be able to evolve into interesting musical spheres.

If you have a teacher, he will teach you the essential techniques, scales, arpeggios, as well as the right fingerings

Step 3. Play songs

If you want to have fun while playing, your best bet is to make songs that you like! There are many fun pieces that you can perform on a clarinet, especially if you like jazz or swing, which are styles that allow you to let your emotions run wild. There are some classical pieces that are fairly easy to play, but you will need to spend some time researching them.

Play the Clarinet Step 15

Step 4. Take lessons

If you really like the clarinet and are serious about learning how to play it, it is best to have a teacher who can guide you as you progress. When you make mistakes, he will correct you immediately and he will know how to guide you according to your progress. You can find a teacher in your area by searching the internet. Lessons are not expensive and a teacher will help you progress faster than if you study alone.

If you don't develop good technical habits from the start, you can develop bad ones that will limit you and prevent you from reaching a good level

Play the Clarinet Step 16

Step 5. Become a member of an orchestra

To evolve while having fun, find an orchestra and participate! A teacher can also give you good information about the musical world in your region and introduce you to other musicians… Talk to musicians in your town and ask them to introduce you to clarinet players who can help you progress!

Persevere. No, you won't become a professional clarinet player in a week… You have to learn the basics and improve your playing by practicing day after day, and this for quite a few years. You cannot become a good musician overnight


  • Like a sportsman, always remember to warm up before playing. This will make your fingers more flexible and allow you to have a more dynamic reed.
  • To know which fingers to use when playing, you must use a fingering chart.
  • Before you buy a clarinet, you can rent one, which will be economical. Go to the music store closest to you and inquire …
  • Clean your reeds regularly or they will gradually deteriorate and you will no longer be able to produce a good sound.
  • Take your clarinet to your favorite music store to have it serviced regularly to make sure it is in good condition.
  • Your mouthpiece should be firm. Keep your jaw balanced and don't turn your lips over.
  • Listen to professional clarinetists and then try to produce a sound that resembles their own. Listening to musicians and copying their techniques is a good way to progress.
  • When you have been playing for a while, get a better quality instrument. A good musician cannot play well with a bad instrument… Then, don't forget to send us your recordings!
  • Always keep your clarinet in its case and in a room where the temperature is moderate. Temperature changes are not good for your instrument.
  • Play standing up! You can sit down to practice, but make sure your back is straight, as this will give you better sound. Your position will influence the tones you will produce.


  • Never consume sugary drinks and never chew gum before playing the clarinet, as you can damage the mouthpiece of your instrument and render it unusable.
  • Don't bite the mouthpiece of your clarinet, it's not a sausage! By biting it, you will damage it and your teeth will not like at all …
  • The clarinet is not the easiest musical instrument to play in the world. If you really want to play it, your best bet is to have a music teacher who can walk you step by step from the start and give you the right techniques while correcting you when you make mistakes.

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