30th Anniversary Special

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Online & In Home Clarinet Lessons

What is a clarinet? To paraphrase Mark van de Wiel, the principal clarinetist of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra “The clarinet is basically a cylindrical, wooden tube with finger holes and metal keys”. This reductive description, spoken by one of the world’s greatest living clarinetists, is part of what makes the clarinet so charming and wonderful. The instrument can serve as part of the greater ensemble or as a solo instrument, but the humility and passion with which Mark speaks tells of the dedication and hours that he’s put into learning this incredible instrument.

The clarinet is thought to have been created in the year 1700. The instrument is thought to have been created in response to specific needs from Late Baroque-era composers, who needed their trumpet or clarino players to reach high registers; these registers became known as clarion (the diminutive of clarino) registers, and from that word the word clarinet was derived; it’s also where we get the phrase clarion call.  

The noises created by the clarinet come from making vibrations in the reed, a thin strip of material tapered off towards the end, typically made of cane grasses but sometimes made of synthetic material. The reed vibrates when air passes over it, and those vibrations make the sound that the clarinet produces, which can be adjusted by the use of the tone holes and keys on the instrument. You can see how reeds make sound yourself in the wild by grabbing tall grass and trying to make sounds with it by creating a seal with your thumbs around the grass, putting your lips to your thumbs and blowing over it. To ensure the proper sound, you need the proper reed, so travelling clarinetists will often bring a large assortment of different reeds with them from concert hall to concert hall; acoustics, ambient temperature, humidity and other conditions might affect the reed the concert clarinetist will use on a given night.

Of course, the body of the clarinet serves to make its sounds much more beautiful and varied than those you could make by blowing over a blade of grass. There is a barrel at the top which can be adjusted to elongate the clarinet, creating microshifts in its pitch. The body is divided into the upper joint, whose keys and holes are usually manipulated using the left hand, and the lower joint, manipulated using the right. The tone holes and some keys are used to create a variety of notes, while other keys might be used to create trills, rapid switching between a variety of notes. In order to stop notes, clarinetists will use their tongues to stop the vibrations going through the reed, taking the tongue off the reed when they want sound to be produced again.

Clarinets come in a wide variety of sizes, in order to produce different notes; the most common clarinets are in B♭ and A. Those two types are used so frequently in composition that most concert clarinetists will have both instruments with them for a concert; they may sometimes need to swap clarinets extremely quickly, even in the middle of the same piece! For an instrument Mark spoke about so humbly, clarinetists have to refine a great number of techniques in order to play successfully.

 Why play the clarinet? There are plenty of reasons, and they extend well beyond an affinity for the Spongebob Squarepants character Squidward (who wasn’t really a formidable clarinetist to begin with). The clarinet is has a storied history in Western music; as mentioned, it’s been used in classical composition since at least the year 1700, and is so useful in these competitions that clarinetists need to carry two with them. What a lot of folks might not realize is that the clarinet isn’t just used in classical; the instrument has been used prominently in jazz compositions for years. Duke Ellington famously composed a variety of tunes using lead clarinet, and a variety of big band composers used featured the instrument prominently. The clarinet also features prominently is some famous rock arrangements; Sly and the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music” might be one of the funkiest songs to use the clarinet. Avant-garde and experimental rock composers also love the tones from the clarinet; you can hear the instrument in Radiohead’s jazz-influenced “Life in a Glasshouse” and Tom Waits “All the World is Green”.

No matter what kind of music you like, there’s songs on the clarinet for you to play; if you’re interested in learning an instrument with a vast repertoire that most people can’t play (how many clarinetists do you know?), the clarinet is an excellent choice. The instrument is incredibly rewarding to learn, because everything from the position of your tongue to the quality of your breath affects tone and pitch; this is an instrument that rewards discipline and dedication.

Every clarinetist will sound a little bit different; that’s because everyone’s personal experience will influence how they play their instrument, every reed is constructed a little differently, each clarinet might produce a slightly different sound. That means when you learn the clarinet, you’re learning to play music that’s a unique reflection of you. You’ll have to learn fingerings, to use the tone holes as well as the metal keys, to blow into the instrument just so. This will teach you patience, dexterity, breath control, self-love. You’ll grow more confident as this reflection of you becomes more nuanced, more subtle, more fierce, more beautiful.

All of these benefits apply to children, too, and children tend to be better at picking up musical habits because of their neuroplasticity. That means the earlier you pick up the clarinet, the faster these good habits will form; who doesn’t want their child to learn a skill that builds up their confidence and self-awareness?

That’s why we offer in-home clarinet lessons. You can learn from the comfort of your own home, or have your child learn without worrying about driving them across the city for an appointment. While you cook dinner, do chores, or find a bit of time for yourself, you’ll be able to hear your child develop, both musically and personally. Our techniques compound on each other, so each step of the process reveals more depth in the others, until clarinet mastery is achieved. We do this in several ways.

For students new to the clarinet, we use the Hal Leonard Essential Elements system. We like this system because of its focus on multiple mediums to teach; it uses videos, songs, text and more, so no matter what kind of learning is easiest for you, there’s something you’ll be able to get out of the Hal Leonard courses. The courses delve into music theory, rhythm and practice. We also offer courses for the Royal Conservatory of Music program; the Royal Conservatory is the gold standard for professional musicians. Passing their exams is difficult, a true rite of passage, but we’ll ensure you have all the tools and techniques necessary to succeed. We’re also happy to customize for you; our instructors can personalize a program of study that best suits the needs of the student, whether it is to get a head start with a school band program, to reinforce and supplement a current school band program, to prepare for a university music program or just for fun! We’re happy to help you learn anything in the clarinet’s vast repertoire, so give this wonderful instrument a try!