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Q: Is a Used Mouthpiece Okay?
A: As far as the mouthpiece, it probably doesn't matter whether it's used or new, as long as there are no chips. Sometimes, however, the better ones can change shape a little over time since they are made of hard rubber rather than the plastic that the inexpensive ones are made of. That's one reason we recommend that you not swab a mouthpiece.

Q: What materials are used in clarinets?
A: You will find clarinets made mostly out of wood, but also plastic and metal are used, the latter for the bigger contra bass clarinets. The wood is mostly granadillas but Buffet has a line of instruments with what they call "Green Line". This is a mixture of 95% granulated granadillas wood, 5% polycarbonate fiber and a specially formulated epoxy resin, which is pressed together with heat. It is said to be more "crack" free and homogeneous.
Some B-flats made completely of metal can be found. They are built in one piece except for the mouthpiece joint, and you will notice that the metal clarinet is much thinner than the wooden brother. There has been a very small (E-flat?) metal clarinet built in 4 pieces. Metal was mostly used in the early century in the US, but is doubtfully constructed any more.
Plastics are used in cheaper school instruments but are also used by marching bands when they perform outdoors. Key mechanics are plated with Nickel or Silver on the more expensive instruments. Silver gives the best feeling and precision.

Q: Should I buy a wood or plastic clarinet?
A: Beginners usually use a plastic instrument because they are less expensive and hold up a little better in case they are dropped or worse. Most students start with a plastic student instrument and step-up to a wooden instrument about the third year of study when the student instrument starts to inhibit their playing, or when the band director suggests it. On the other hand, a student who is responsible and careful might start off right away with a wood clarinet. Wood clarinets get a richer and more characteristic sound, but plastic clarinets have improved tremendously over the years.

Q: Do wood clarinets crack?
A: Wooden clarinets don't usually crack from lack of use, or being left in a cold room. They crack if you blow warm air into a cold instrument. So just warm the body of the instrument with your hands before playing and it should never crack.

Q: What about the colored plastic clarinets?
A: The colored instruments are plastic, and band directors frown on them.

Q: What is the tone range of the clarinet?
A: Most clarinets will descend to an E, which is written under the third leger line under the staff system.There are variants where the lowest tone is E-flat, D or even C (concert D-flat, C and B-flat). The alto and bass will always descend to at least E-flat. There is no upper limit, but most clarinetists will be able to play a C three octaves above the low "left hand tree finger C". This gives a practical range of about 3 1/2 octaves.

Q: What is a key system?
A: There are different key systems (links and mechanics) for the clarinet. The B system is the most commonly used, and is an evolution from the older systems. B m introduced better mechanics and semi tone keys which simplified the playing. In some continental countries (like Germany) you will find the Auler system with fewer keys forcing you to play with a different technique. Another system is called Albert, and is simpler than the Boehm forcing you to play with forked grips et.c.

Q: What is this B-flat thing?
A: The conductor reads the music from the score with all parts included. Very often the score is written with all parts in the same key signature. The term "concert key" is referring to the score. Piano, violin, flute and oboe (for instance) are tuned in C. They read the notes as from the score. The clarinet however is pitched in B-flat. If you would play from the score, the note C would actually sound like a B-flat played on the piano. When the composer extracts the clarinet part he will "raise" every note one step, so that the clarinet plays a D to sound like a concert C. This also means that two sharps must be added to the key signature of the clarinet part, for instance from C major to D major. The extracted parts are said to be the "transposed key" or "written key".

Q: I hear about all different kinds of clarinets - Bb, A, Eb etc. What's the difference?
A: The Bb soprano clarinet is the most commonly used clarinet, and is the one you will see being played in bands, orchestras and other ensembles. It is the only kinds we sell on our web site, so all of the pictures you see there are Bb clarinets.
The Eb clarinet is quite small and rarely used. It is less than 2 feet long and has a much smaller mouthpiece. Essentially, it is a miniature Bb clarinet and plays in a higher key.
The Bb bass clarinet is commonly used and plays in a lower key. It is quite large and is usually supported by a peg that extends from the curved bell to the floor. It also has a curved neck.
The Eb alto clarinet is seldom used, and is a small version of the bass clarinet. It is usually supported by a neck strap. The sound quality is not nearly as full and lush as the bass clarinet.
Another common instrument in professional orchestras is the A clarinet. It is very similar in appearance to the Bb soprano clarinet. It is a little bit longer and plays in a different key.
These are the most commonly seen clarinets. In addition, you sometimes see the Eb conta alto and Bb contra bass, which are longer in size and lower in pitch than the bass clarinets. Similarly, the basset horn in the key of F is rarely used in major orchestras. One other instrument similar in size and appearance to the Bb soprano clarinet is the C clarinet.

Q: My child has small hands. Will he be able to play the clarinet?
A: Even children with small hands can play the clarinet, although it may take a little more persistence, particularly with the low notes. Adding one finger at a time helps, as well as playing in front of a mirror. Try this: hold the clarinet normally, press your finger on a hole or ring. Then look at your fingertip to see if there is an entire circle impressed on your finger tip. If there is, then you are covering the hole completely. If you get a complete circle on all six fingers and your thumb, you are all set.

Q: I have braces, and playing the clarinet hurts my mouth. Is there anything I can do?
A: It was a thin rubber like material. Vaseline might help too. Try putting a little piece of paper over your lower teeth to give a little cushion. That helps some people. Also, it's possible that you are putting too much of your lower lip over your teeth. You can point your chin and say 'eew'. Ideally, you would want your lip to sort of stand up on its own with some support from the teeth. You want to avoid biting into the lip.

Q: The music store sells key oil and bore oil. Do I need these?
A: As far as oiling a clarinet, it really doesn't require much. At most, oil it once a year. Just put a few drops of bore oil on the swab and pull it through. You can get key oil at the music store in this neat little plastic bottle with its own needle. Just put a tiny drop each place metal rubs against metal. Or just spill some key oil on a hard surface somewhere, dip a needle into the oil and touch a spot where metal rubs against metal. Just keep going back and forth until it's all oiled. We would do that no more than once a year. It won't hurt anything, but might cause a little mess if you do it more.
The most important thing you can do to take proper care of your clarinet is to swab it regularly. Take the mouthpiece off, hold the clarinet upside down, and pull the swab through a couple of times. The mouthpiece should be cleaned once a week. It can be rinsed off with a small amount of dish soap and warm water. Shake the water out and dry the outside with a soft cloth. Don't dry the inside, but set it out for a little while to dry naturally.

Q: Do i need special fingering for alto and bass clarinets?
A: 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.

Q: Should I oil the outside of the clarinet?
A: If you have no varnish, paint or lacquer on the outside wood we would suggest cleaning it to remove the gunk formed by dust and dirt combining with the oil in the wood to form a mess which clogs the pores of the wood which hampers natural moisture exchange.Clean the wood on the outside with Doctor's Wood Cleaner or diluted Murphy's Oil Soap and after thoroughly dry - oil the wood (please use no clear bore oil - it is mineral oil) after thorough drying apply a quality wood oil and wax. Grenad-Oil and Doctor's Woodwind museum quality wax are the best available products.

Q: How do I know when I have oiled enough?
A: Each piece of your instrument probably came from a different tree and may have different oiling needs from its adjoining part. When it has enough oil by applying a thin even coat of oil (Doctor's Oiling Rig does an excellent job and makes it easy) and letting the instrument stand overnight. If all of the oil is absorbed (which is only true if you use quality oil like Bore Doctor or Grenad-Oil) then we repeat the process until there is oil on the surface of the wood after the overnight period. This tells us that the wood has absorbed enough oil. We remove the excess oil with a clean cotton swab and we are done. Some pieces of wood will require multiple treatments and some none at all and that is why we oil the pieces and not the instrument as if it were all one piece of wood.

Q: How do I keep oil off my pads when oiling?
A: If you apply a thin even coat of oil using either a damp (not dripping wet) cloth on a string or use the handy Doctor's Oiling Rig you should not have excess oil dripping through tone holes. As a precaution however we cut little squares of waxed paper and put them under the "closed" pads on the instrument.

Q: what’s the difference between high pitch and low pitch clarinets; does this make the notes either flat or sharp?
A:Somewhere after the turn of the century, the standard pitch that everyone plays from was changed to about one quarter note lower, that being today's concert A=440 pitch.  Thusly, we now have the term low pitch and high pitch for clarinets.  In our experience, you cannot get a high pitch clarinet to play in tune with today's instruments.