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

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

The Basics of Clarinet Playing

Learning to play the clarinet can be an exciting and rewarding experience! However, starting out can sometimes feel overwhelming. Fortunately, by mastering a few basic techniques, you’ll be on your way to producing beautiful sounds on your clarinet.

Positioning the Mouthpiece

The mouthpiece is a small, tapered piece of plastic or hard rubber that is inserted into the top of the clarinet. The reed, which is a thin, flat piece of wood, is attached to the mouthpiece with a thin metal clamp called a ligature. When positioned correctly, air from your lungs will vibrate the reed, creating sound.

To position the mouthpiece correctly, hold it in your left hand and gently insert the reed into your mouth. Wet the reed by placing your tongue or lips on it and blowing air softly through it. While holding the clarinet in your right hand, bring the mouthpiece up to your mouth. Angle the mouthpiece so that the reed is resting on your bottom lip and is just above your teeth. Apply gentle pressure with your top teeth to hold the mouthpiece in place. Keep your chin flat and muscles relaxed.

Proper Posture

Having good posture is essential for playing the clarinet effectively. Sit on the front half of your chair with your feet flat on the floor, your back straight, and your shoulders relaxed. Hold the clarinet with your right hand at the bottom and your left hand at the top, with your fingers resting gently on the keys. Keep your elbows close to your body and your wrists straight. The clarinet should be parallel to the floor.

Breathing Technique

The way you breathe is crucial to producing quality sound on the clarinet. Rather than breathing shallowly, it’s important to breathe deeply from your diaphragm. Your diaphragm is a muscle located in your abdomen that controls your breathing. You can practice diaphragmatic breathing by placing one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Breathe in slowly and deeply, feeling your stomach expand. Hold the breath for a few seconds before slowly exhaling.

Once you have mastered the basics of clarinet playing, you’ll be ready to move on to more advanced techniques, such as proper finger positioning and tone production. With patience, perseverance, and practice, you’ll soon be playing beautiful music on your clarinet!

Fingering Techniques

If you’re new to the clarinet, getting the fingerings for each note right can be a daunting task. However, learning the proper fingerings for each note can help you to play different scales and songs with ease. The clarinet has a range of over three octaves, so there are many different fingerings to learn. Here are some tips to help you master the fingering techniques:

1. Learn the Basic Fingerings

Start by learning the basic fingerings for the clarinet, which are the most commonly used. These fingerings are used in many songs and are the foundation for playing different scales and melodies. A basic clarinet fingering chart can be found online or in beginners’ books. It’s important to study the chart and learn which fingers to use for each note and how to transition between them.

2. Finger Placement

Proper finger placement is critical for playing the clarinet. The pads of your fingers should rest lightly on the keys, covering the holes completely, and the fingers should be curved. Keep your fingers close to the keys, which reduces tension and allows for faster playing. Make sure that you are not lifting your fingers too high off the keys, which can cause a squeaking sound.

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3. Use Your Thumb

Don’t forget to use your thumb when playing the clarinet. Your left hand thumb should be placed on the thumb rest, which is located on the back of the instrument. Your right hand thumb should be placed on the thumb rest near the register key. Make sure your thumb is relaxed and not tense, as tension can affect your playing. Practice moving your thumb quickly and smoothly between different notes.

4. Practice Slowly and Accurately

Practice your fingerings slowly and accurately at first. Play scales and simple songs to get used to the different fingerings. Then, gradually increase the speed as you become more comfortable and accurate with your fingerings. Practicing slowly and accurately builds muscle memory and helps to prevent mistakes when playing fast passages.

5. Use the Alternate Fingerings

The clarinet has several alternate fingerings that can be used for certain notes. These alternate fingerings can make playing certain passages easier or provide a different tone quality. You can find alternate fingerings in advanced clarinet books or search for them online. Practice these alternate fingerings to add variety to your playing.

By mastering the basic clarinet fingerings and practicing them regularly, you can become proficient in playing different scales and songs. Remember to practice slowly and accurately, and use proper finger placement and thumb positioning. As you become more skilled, you can start to use alternate fingerings to add more variety to your playing. Keep practicing and experimenting with different fingerings to develop your skills as a clarinet player.

Playing Techniques

Playing the clarinet is a beautiful and captivating experience. The instrument has a unique timbre and range, capable of expressing various emotions and moods. To fully explore the potential of the clarinet, you need to learn different playing techniques. Here are some of the essential techniques that you should master:


The staccato technique is one of the most fundamental techniques in clarinet playing. It involves playing short, detached notes. To achieve the staccato effect, you need to articulate the notes cleanly and quickly. To do this, you should use tongue-controlled techniques such as tonguing or double-tonguing. Practicing staccato exercises regularly will help you develop speed, accuracy, and control over your notes.


Legato is another essential technique in clarinet playing. It refers to playing smooth and connected notes without any gaps or interruptions. To achieve the legato effect, you need to use a technique called slurring. Slurring involves changing the notes without tonguing. To do this, you should use a combination of finger coordination, embouchure control, and breath support. Practicing legato exercises regularly will help you develop a smooth and seamless playing style.


Vibrato is a technique that adds a subtle vibrancy to your clarinet playing. It involves oscillating the pitch of a note slightly. To achieve the vibrato effect, you need to use your diaphragm muscles. You can do this by controlling your breath support and changing the speed and intensity of your air flow. Vibrato adds a human-like quality to your playing and can express a range of emotions, from excitement to sadness and beyond. It is a versatile technique that enhances your playing style.

Tongue-controlled Techniques

Tongue-controlled techniques are essential for every clarinetist. They involve using your tongue to start and stop notes. You can use different tongue-controlled techniques depending on the tempo, dynamics, and style of the piece you are playing. Some of the commonly used tongue-controlled techniques include single tonguing, double tonguing, and triple tonguing. Single tonguing involves tapping your tongue against your reed to start and stop each note. Double tonguing involves using two syllables to articulate each note. Triple tonguing involves using three syllables to articulate each note. Practicing tongue-controlled techniques will help you develop speed, accuracy, and precision in your playing.

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Breath-controlled Techniques

Breath-controlled techniques are equally essential for clarinet players. They involve controlling the speed, intensity, and duration of your breath. You can use a combination of breath control and embouchure to shape your sound and express different emotions. Some of the commonly used breath-controlled techniques include dynamic control, tone color control, and note bending. Dynamic control involves changing the volume of your sound. Tone color control involves changing the quality of your sound. Note bending involves altering the pitch of a note by adjusting your embouchure and breath support. Practicing breath-controlled techniques will help you develop a nuanced playing style.

By mastering these essential techniques, you can elevate your clarinet playing to new heights. Remember to practice regularly, focus on good technique, and have fun exploring the different sounds and expressions you can create on your clarinet.

Maintenance and Care

Playing the clarinet can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience, but it also requires proper maintenance and care. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced player, below are some important tips to keep your instrument in good condition.

Cleaning Your Clarinet

After each use, it is vital to clean your clarinet thoroughly. This will help prevent any build-up of dirt and moisture, which can lead to damage over time. To clean your clarinet:

  1. Disassemble the instrument.
  2. Wipe down the exterior and interior of each piece with a soft, dry cloth.
  3. Use a clarinet swab to clean the inside of the instrument. A swab is a long piece of cloth that is attached to a string and is pulled through each part of the clarinet to remove any excess moisture.
  4. For a deeper clean, use a clarinet cleaning kit. This typically includes a specialized cleaner and cork grease. Follow the instructions carefully and avoid using any harsh chemicals or excessive force.
  5. Reassemble the clarinet.

It is also important to pay attention to the mouthpiece and reed. Remember to clean them regularly using a mouthpiece brush, reed knife, and/or reed case.

Proper Storage

After cleaning your clarinet, store it properly to avoid damage. Here are some important tips to remember:

  1. Use a hard-shell case to protect the clarinet during transportation.
  2. Store the clarinet in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and moisture.
  3. Avoid leaving the clarinet in extreme temperatures, such as near heating or air conditioning vents.
  4. Do not stack heavy objects on top of the case, as this can cause damage to the instrument.
  5. When traveling, always carry the clarinet with you on the plane or in the car. Do not check it in as luggage or leave it in the trunk of a car.

Regular Servicing

Finally, it is important to have your clarinet serviced regularly by a professional. This will help ensure that your instrument is playing efficiently and that any small problems are addressed before they become bigger issues. Here are some signs that your clarinet may need servicing:

  • Difficulty playing certain notes
  • Unusual sounds or vibrations when playing
  • Difficulty assembling or disassembling the instrument
  • Visible signs of wear and tear on the instrument

A professional repair technician can help diagnose and fix any problems and can also provide advice on proper maintenance and care.


Proper maintenance and care are essential to keeping your clarinet in good condition and prolonging its lifespan. Remember to clean your instrument after each use, store it properly, and have it serviced regularly by a professional. By following these tips, you can continue to enjoy playing the clarinet for many years to come.

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Resources for Learning and Improvement

Playing the clarinet can be a rewarding experience for those who love music. However, like any skill, mastering the clarinet requires dedication and practice. Fortunately, there are a variety of resources available to help you learn and improve your playing ability. Here are some of the best resources for learning and improving your clarinet skills:

1. Clarinet books and manuals

One of the best ways to learn about the clarinet is to read books or manuals. There are numerous publications available that cater to different levels of players, from beginner to advanced. These books contain exercises, tips, and techniques that can help improve your playing. Some popular clarinet books include “Rubank Method for Clarinet,” “The Art of Clarinet Playing” by Keith Stein, and “Mastering the Clarinet” by Michelle Anderson. By reading these books, you can deepen your understanding of the instrument and gain valuable knowledge on how to improve your playing.

2. Clarinet tutorial videos

With the advent of the internet, it’s easier than ever to learn a new skill through tutorial videos. Several online platforms such as YouTube provide access to a range of clarinet tutorial videos. These videos offer step-by-step instructions and demonstrations on a variety of topics such as how to assemble your clarinet, how to play different notes, and how to perfect your embouchure. Watching these videos can be a great way to supplement your practice and learn new techniques and skills.

3. Clarinet lessons with a teacher

Probably the most effective way to improve your clarinet skills is to take lessons with a qualified teacher. A teacher can provide personalized instruction based on your abilities and goals. They can help you correct any mistakes you might be making, suggest appropriate practice routines, and offer insights on how to improve your playing. A good clarinet teacher can not only help you improve but also make your practice sessions more enjoyable.

4. Playing with other musicians

Playing with other musicians is an excellent way to improve your overall musicality and performance. Joining a group or ensemble can provide opportunities to play with players of different levels and styles, learn new pieces and techniques, and experience the joy of making music with others. Playing with others can also help you develop good sight-reading skills, learn how to blend in a group, and improve your timing. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced player, playing with others can enhance your skills and give you a sense of belonging to a community.

5. Listening to clarinet music

Finally, listening to music is an essential part of improving your playing ability. By listening to other clarinet players, you can learn about different playing techniques, phrasing, and tone. You can also gather inspiration from different styles of music and find new ways to apply them to your playing. Some great clarinet players to listen to include Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Richard Stoltzman. By listening to clarinet music, you can gain insights on how to improve your own playing.

There you have it – five great resources for learning and improving your clarinet skills. By using these resources, you can take your playing ability to the next level and enjoy the process of mastering the clarinet. Remember to practice regularly, set goals for yourself, and have fun!

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