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clarinet family, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, b flat clarinet
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The members of the Clarinet Family

While the B flat clarinet may be well known to many people, the range of members of the clarinet family comes as a surprise to many, including many musicians.

When first developed from the chalumeau by Richard Denner in the first half of the 18th century, the clarinet was a much less agile and dependable instrument than the clarinets of today. Each piece of music would require a clarinet that played best in that key, which meant a clarinetist was required to have clarinets in different keys.

This continues to today, with some orchestral clarinetists using both B flat clarinets and a clarinet in A. With the development of the contra bass clarinet in the late 19th century, there has not been much change in the standard definition for each clarinet yet.

The clarinets that make up this amazing family of instruments today are:

  • Sopranino in A flat– a high pitched clarinet in A flat mainly used in the past for military bands;
  • Sopranino in E flat – now the ‘standard’ soprano clarinet;
  • Sopranino in D – an easier clarinet to play than the E flat version;
  • Clarinet in C – a non-transposing instrument;
  • Clarinet in B flat – the most commonly used clarinet;
  • Clarinet in A – a warmer, mellower sounding clarinet than the B flat;
  • Basset Clarinet in A – a very rare clarinet which is now little more than a curiosity;
  • Basset Horn in F – previously bent in the middle, this clarinet is now straight with a metal neck;
  • Alto Clarinet in A flat – a favorite for chamber music;
  • Bass Clarinet in B flat – second most widely used clarinet;
  • Contralto Clarinet in E flat – another rarely used clarinet;
  • Contrabass clarinet in B flat – a giant clarinet, with its bended body 2.31 metres long!


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About the Author:

written by Natalia Forrest


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