How to Play the Clarinet: Tips for Getting the Best Sound

While it’s easy to make a sound on a clarinet, it takes the right mix of skill and equipment to truly learn how to play the clarinet the right way. The sound you want might vary a little bit depending on the type of music you’re playing, but there are tips you can apply across the board so your clarinet sounds as rich and full as possible.

The below may seem overwhelming, but it’s not meant to be learned all at once. So if you’re wondering how to play the clarinet, it’s easy: take it one step at a time and eventually you won’t even have to think about it.

Here are somethings that can help you become a better clarinetist:

  • Reed Choice Matters
  • Use a Quality Clarinet
  • Practice the Right Things
  • Perfect Your Embouchure
  • Use Lots of Air
  • Practice, Practice, Practice!

Your Reed Choice Matters

When it comes to learning how to play the clarinet, having the right reed will help ensure that your clarinet sounds its best. Most beginners play with a reed that’s a 2 or a 2 ½, but expect to move up to a 3 or a 3 ½ once you’ve been playing for awhile. When you buy a new box of reeds, soak them in lukewarm water for about five minutes before playing. Play on each reed to see which one sounds the best, then let all of your reeds dry completely. Soak them, play them, and let them dry again. Out of a box of 10 reeds, one or two of those reeds will provide a superior sound. Don’t throw the rest away; you can use them for practice.

Choose a Quality Clarinet

Professional band and orchestra instruments are the same as just about anything you purchase; you get what you pay for. If you’re learning how to play the clarinet using a clarinet that was a hand-me-down from your grandmother’s cousin, expect that your sound won’t be as rich as a top-of-the-line clarinet. Plastic clarinets produce a good sound, and they are less pricey than a wooden clarinet. Wooden clarinets are known for their nice tone quality, and they will last for years to come. Whether your clarinet is new or old, make sure you maintain it properly by cleaning and oiling your instrument twice a year.

Practice Open G

The clarinet features several open notes, meaning no holes are plugged when you play (or at least very few holes are plugged). Open G is the most prominent open note, but there’s also A, B-flat, F, F-sharp, and G-sharp. When you play an open note on a clarinet, the way you play is very important because there’s very little resonance inside the clarinet. Make sure you use correct posture, breathe with your diaphragm, and relax your throat (without losing your embouchure) when you play. It takes practice to make this a habit, but it will help you get the very best sound while learning how to play the clarinet.

Use the Proper Embouchure

Putting too much of your bottom lip on your reed, or playing your clarinet with a closed throat will result in a sound that’s not ideal for your clarinet. To make the perfect embouchure for the best clarinet sound, place your bottom lip against your teeth so your chin is flat. Place your clarinet’s mouthpiece on your bottom lip, rest your teeth on top of the mouthpiece, and then close your lips to keep the air in. When you use proper technique, there’s just the right amount of pressure on the reed and you’ll enjoy the best sound that your clarinet can produce. If you’re having trouble with embouchure, try practicing your lip formation without making any sound.

Use Lots of Air When you Play

A clarinet is a small instrument, but it takes lots of air to get the best sound. The best way to ensure you get a lot of air when you take a breath is to sit with your back straight and your shoulders back. When you sit properly, your lung capacity increases over time, your ab muscles get stronger, and you’ll have the right breath support to support the best sound on your clarinet. When breathing, fill your lungs from the bottom up and blow from your stomach, not your throat. If you aren’t sure about your breathing or posture, ask your teacher to observe and provide feedback.

Practice, Practice, Practice

You’ve heard that practice makes perfect, but it also makes for a great clarinet sound. You might notice that your sound quality is decreased on the highest and the lowest notes on the instrument; practice these ranges to improve your breath support and your fingering. Your tone quality will only get better the more you practice and learn how to play the clarinet, and extra practice really helps with the highest and lowest notes. After all, good tone quality doesn’t happen overnight and, in the end, comes down to skill and dedication to the instrument.

Now that you know how to play the clarinet, you’re probably in the market for new clarinet reeds. Learn How to Choose a Clarinet Reed.

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2 Comments
  1. I can’t find figure out if I am playing my notes correct. Whenever I try and compare my music with somebody else’s, they both sound exactly the opposite. I don’t know if it is me or my clarinet.

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