Over time I get very similar, typical questions by mail concerning the clarinet. In order to avoid having to answer them again and again, I have put the generalised questions and answers here.

Is brand xyz any good and who knows about it?
How do you assess the value of a used clarinet?
What does the number of keys an rings mean for the price?
How do I find a good clarinet teacher near where I live?
I am a beginner - how can I proceed faster?
What is transposing - how do you do it?
Is there special fingering for larger or smaller clarinets?
I need help with my mouthpiece - intonation - sound!

You did not find your question here or it was not answered sufficiently?
How to use a search engine effectively

Just before you write, please consider whether there is a chance that you could find the answer in the internet by using your favourite search engine (like Google). Unfortunately this is true for many questions I receive. You don't have to be a search expert, just key in the nouns of your question.

For example, looking for a clarinet teacher in Boston who would teach you Klezmer style, type: Klezmer Clarinet Teacher Boston. Start with the most specific, end with the most general. If you started with "Boston", you'd probably find a lot of commercial ads that have nothing to do with clarinets in the first lines of your search result. But the above should give you some hundred answers, half of them good ones.

If you don't find anything there, then it is fair to ask for an answer by Mail. I don't want to promise too much here but if I am not on a long vacation (and unfortunately that does not happen often these days), you should receive your answer within a couple of days.


Is the brand Yamaha / Amati / Selmer any good ...?

This is something you can't answer generally, since instruments might turn out very different individually. Much like it is not true to say that Mercedes cars are generally better than Citroens. Off course Selmer and Yamaha hardly produce crab, and Amati in plastic is hard to play in tune. But further one shouldn't go. Rather examine the individual instrument! You find general information on brands and price list via your search engine.


Do you know this type of clarinet?

Usually not - my experience may be wide but it is one person's experience and limited. And another individual instrument of the same type and series might behave different, too. If you want to find out about the making of the clarinet you have got in your hands, you will usually find the maker printed onto the upper and lower joint; if you have the (original) case, that will tell you something, too. Again: use your favourite search engine!


How do you assess the value of a used instrument?

Difficult subject! That depends on type, finish, use, image and demand - very much as with cars. I have given you some clues on how to examine a clarinet and how to calculate (technically) a price in the chapter how to buy.


Is a 15 year old clarinet that is in good shape nearly worth the price it had when it was new?

Generally: Yes. Of course it depends on that shape and whether sound and tuning are good. But if all this is OK, it is maintained and appears like new, then it is worth the price. The wood might be - given a good treatment like correct oiling about once a year - be even better than it was then. The problem is usually keys and axis, but if everything works smoothly, silent and closes perfectly, yes, then it is worth it.


Are clarinets with more keys or rings better - they are more expensive, aren't they?

Generally yes. Clarinets do have 17, 20 or 22 keys and 4,5 or 6 rings. You find an explanation on what that means in the chapter on keys, and clues on how that influences a price are given in how to buy.

But again today there are professional instruments where they have on purpose reduced the number of keys, since more keys (more tone holes) don't improve the sound.


I want to learn Klezmer / Jazz / classic / gipsy style / whatever, I live in Bredforth, can you give me an address, please?

Just do it like me: using your favourite search engine (like Google). You don't have to be a search expert, just key in the nouns of your question, like: Klezmer Bredforth Clarinet Teacher. Start with the most specific, end with the most general. The above should give you some twenty answers, half of them good ones.

How and where else you may find a teacher is described in Chapter how to learn


I am a beginner (3 weeks) and would like to proceed faster - namely play the higher register!

NO, that is no good idea. Do read chapter how to learn - slowly!.


What is transposition? My son plays clarinet, I have a recorder, but we don't play the same tones!

If you use the same fingering of the recorder on the clarinet in upper register, the tones on the clarinet should be exactly one full tone below the recorder. That is called transposition. When playing a C on the clarinet it produces a B flat sound - that is why it is called B flat clarinet. In the lower register (chalumeau) the clarinet is not one octave - eight full tones - lower - like the recorder - but one-and-a-half octaves. Once you understand that and got used to it, playing together is no problem. What you really need is sheet music, set for a C-instrument (recorder) and a B flat instrument (Clarinet), where somebody has done the transposition for you (see below).


I want to play Christmas Carols with my friends - I have got an Alto clarinet. How do I transpose?

The example on the image here might be helpful.

The alto clarinet transposes to E flat instrument. It is noted in the violine key. The transposition is simple: You write all the notes that were intended for a C-Instrument (second row) like the piano three half tones lower (you play an F, but it sounds as A). If you use the B flat clarinet's voice as source, you have to write it five half tones lower than printed (because the clarinet plays everything one full or two half tones lower than it is printed: It plays a B flat and you hear an A). Then you have to adapt the sharps and flats,too: If it was a C-voice you add three sharps or subtract three flats, if the voice was for B flat instruments, you add one sharp or subtract one flat. Now all four instruments in our example play an A (that is, A is what it sounds).

Notation programs do that for you automatically. For example look for Finale NotePad in version 2008 or older, that can be loaded for free (but no more available at finalemusic.com, since they want to sell you Notepad 2009). With those tools, you can, too, hear, whether you have done it correctly.

Clue: Often you can avoid the whole tiresome work of transposition by using an alto saxophone voice with the alto clarinet - alto saxophones are common instruments and they are in E flat, too!


Do you need special fingering for alto and bass clarinets?

In general all clarinets are using the same fingering for the chalumeau and clarinet register, except for the low keys that only bass clarinets have - but than they are simple and straight forward. You might find additional trill keys on bass clarinets, since there is lots of space, but their meaning is no mystery.

Only in the highest (third) register there are special fingering hints sometimes, but that depends on the individual instrument and they will supply you with tables for that. However, you will hardly ever need those.


Problems with mouthpiece - tuning - sound: Help!

One reader wrote: I play clarinet for 3 years now. Recently my intonation has become to high for some notes (despite tuning). Some have told me I should use less pressure with my lips, my teacher said, I should rather form an "O" with my lips when playing, and the music shop told me, I have a to tight embouchure, and some fried said, the reason is that the bore in the mouthpiece is much narrower than in my clarinet itself.

I tried out another mouthpiece and the instrument was much better in tune, only the sound was somewhat shrill and cheap, the reed was much to soft for it, and the mouthpiece didn't go into the barrel easily.

I tried another mouthpiece, that was going in much better, but I could hardly produce any tone with that. I have never used a different mouthpiece before on my instrument than my original one and I don't know what to do now. Help me, please!

Answer: Hello, yes, that is how it is for many of us - just like you described.

Indeed embouchure changes over time and that changes the tuning (maybe you just start noticing it once you mastered most of the other problems). Indeed intonation problems can be tackled with a mouthpiece change, but since the chamber in your mouth counts as part of the mouthpiece, you can start changing that. Therefore your teachers remark making an "O" with your mouth is much more reasonable than one might think at first: an "O" makes the space inside your mouth bigger than a "U" which again could be reduced by saying "I".

It is a very good sign that tuning became better with a different mouthpiece, even if the sound was not pleasant. The sound is, too, a question of the lay, and furthermore it is very subjective. Ask your clarinet teacher what she thinks! But all that gives a mouthpiece builder or a music shop salesman some idea where to start searching a good mouthpiece for your. At first you should try as many mouthpieces as you can. They have differences in lay that may result in problems with your reeds and your embouchure and your jaws position. But trying them out helps finding what you need. Do take some time for each because you must get used to it first, ten minutes is definitely not enough! Some producers and dealers send you some 3 - 5 mouthpieces to try out, if you don't take one, you have to pay the postage, that is all (check in the internet).

If you have problems because the mouthpiece is to narrow for the barrel you can use paper (damp cigarette paper is best) wound around the cork. If it hardly can be pushed in, beware! Use cork grease a lot, but never use force - you might crack your barrel!

In the end you have experimented with mouthpieces until you found something suitable. If not, you have got the experience now to discuss your problem with a mouthpiece maker (I'd rather call first on the phone). Ask your teacher and/or other experienced clarinettists about who does that well in your area or country. With all information on what type of mouthpiece worked how he should be in a position to make one that fits you (usually they just alter an existing model).

I hope that helped a little!