This is what the clarinet looks like (left): a long, black instrument with lots of silver keys. The clarinet is a fun instrument because you can play so many different types of music on it: classical (in an orchestra, with piano or in an ensemble with other instruments), jazz, klezmer ( jewish music), gypsy music…
The clarinet can sound very dark and sad, very warm and romantic but also very shrill and cold. Good composers know exactly which notes to give the clarinet so they fit in with the atmosphere of the piece. The clarinet has a big range – that means in can play very high as well as very low notes.
The very first clarinet was much like a recorder. Only the mouthpiece was different. The mouthpiece of a recorder is ready-made: you can play on it as is. A clarinet mouthpiece is different: you need to attach a reed to it before it can be played. The reed is a thin piece of bamboo which becomes thinner towards the tip. The thin part of the reed vibrates when you blow on the mouthpiece; this is was creates the sound. Through the centuries, the clarinet has continued to evolve. The modern clarinet is twice as long as a recorder, and with all of the keys it looks very complicated indeed.
To play the clarinet, you need to be able to blow hard. In the beginning, it can be quite difficult to produce a sound; it feels like there is a lot of resistance, but soon you get used to it, and it’s much easier. If you place the mouthpiece in your mouth just so, the sound comes very easily.
The clarinet is made of wood. Today, it is almost always hardwood, which is stained black; long ago all types of wood were used, such as ebony or boxwood. Nowadays, clarinets are even made of synthetic materials – if you don’t want black, why not choose white or red?
Since it’s invention (around 1690), the clarinet has been a very popular instrument, for which a great many composers have written music, from all types of ensembles to virtuoso solo concertos.