The "chalumeau" or "primitive clarinet", derived from the cennamella, was a conical reed tube, pierced with seven holes and like the clarinet had a simple swing reed. The technique with which the reed was applied on the "chalumeau" did not allow the production of harmonics. Johann Christoph Denner was the inventor of the following transformations, so he is considered the father of the clarinet.

⦁ built in the year 1690 an instrument with eight holes and 2 keys: one for the harmonics and the other for the "A in the second space". The piece of the ancient bit had been replaced with a mouthpiece and with a well blunt reed similar to the present one.

⦁ In the year 1701, he modified the distances of the holes, added the sound hole, and the bell or pavilion then missing. This first type of clarinet, perfected, was tuned on the Ut (C).

The men who contributed to the development of the clarinet were: the son of Christoph Denner who lengthened the tube of the instrument built by his father and opened another hole, which, thanks to a long lever, allowed the instrument to emit the "low E" and its harmonic "B" in the third line.

Giuseppe Beer, founder of the first clarinet school in Germany, put to the clarinet the "fa diesis grave" and it's harmonic "do diesis", and another key called "stake" for the issue of the notes "sol diesis grave" and "re diesis in Quarta linea". Further refinements were made by Saverio Lefèvre with the addition of the sixth key for the emission of the "low do diesis" and "acute G sharp".

Simiot of Lyon added two more keys to the trills, and Ivan Muller, in 1810 presented the Paris Academy of Arts with a "13-key omnitonic clarinet".

However, the Technical Commission of the Arts of Perugia did not take pains to express a negative opinion on the conception of Muller.

They again brought additions and modifications to the Muller system clarinet: Buffet, Grampon, Albert, Barret, Quaranta, Pupeschi, Carta, and others.

NB: The Clarino has nothing to do with the clarinet. This instrument, used between the 17th and 18th centuries, served to complement the acute extension of the trumpet family. Although made of metal, the sound was very sweet and gave the impression of a wooden instrument. Its timbre was between the current oboe and the clarinet. The round one-reed mouthpiece was in B flat.

The wood traditionally used to build the clarinet is ebony, which gives it its characteristic black color. Other woods used are grenadilla (today the most used), Cocobolo, and rosewood (or rosenwood) from Honduras; a widely used wood is also oak. Grenadilla wood, originating from Mozambique, has become the most widely used not because of its superior acoustic qualities, as some mistakenly believe, but thanks to its compactness, excellent workability, and ability to maintain the dimensions in which it is worked. This last characteristic is extremely important as even minimal variations in the measures of the internal bore have a great influence on the intonation and sound quality of the clarinet. Each type of wood confers peculiar characteristics to the sound of the instrument built with it, as well as having different characteristics of workability and durability.

However, for beginners, clarinets are built in plastic materials such as ABS, which are cheaper and less demanding. Another relatively modern material is an ebonite-reinforced grenadilla compound, also known as reinforced bithermal. This material is particularly interesting for its weight which is very similar to that of wood and for the fact that it is not affected by humidity and is, therefore, less subject to deterioration due to use. For the same reason, the material with which the mouthpieces are also manufactured is also chosen, usually ebonite for reasons of economy, and can be combined with plastic.

Another material that was frequently used is metal clarinet, its timber is slightly brighter, and harder to blow and resonant. It was mainly used in marching bands, and today clarinetists rarely play metal clarinet, but consider it more as an artifact or collector’s item.

The last material, very curious and still used today, is glass, used above all to create collector's items rather than for real artistic use.

Backun Musical Services' CG Carbon model is the most technologically advanced clarinet in the world. It features a body made of carbon fiber with a wood core (grenadilla or cocobolo). Using an innovative and patent-pending process, the carbon fiber is fused to the core and machined with precision

© Backun Bb clarinet in cocobolo ©-Backun carbon fiber clarinet

Like other wind and non-wind instruments (trumpet, bassoon, flute, saxophone, violin, drum, etc.) the clarinet is built in different sizes and tones. The various clarinets built in various sizes and tonalities form “THE CLARINET FAMILY”.

All clarinet cuts except the now disused clarinet in C are transposing instruments, meaning that the note emitted by the instrument does not correspond to the one read in the score. The clarinet family nowadays consists of these instruments:

  • Piccolo Clarinet in A FLAT or sestino (almost completely extinct, it can be found in the band);

  • Piccolo Clarinet in Eb or Quartino (the smallest size of common clarinet);

  • Soprano Clarinet in Bb (commonly used clarinet);

  • Soprano Clarinet in A (size owned by practically all professional clarinetists);

  • Basset clarinet in A (it is a normal clarinet in A slightly larger with an extended low range, it is used to perform some solo concerts including Mozart's famous clarinet concerto);

  • Basset horn in F (a rare and disused instrument that found fortune in Mozart's works and some symphonic works of the late 1800s and early 1900s);

  • Eb Alto Clarinet (rare instrument, found mostly in bands and clarinet orchestras);

  • Bb Bass Clarinet (family fundamental bass, commonly used in both orchestra and band, is owned by many professional clarinetists);

  • Contrabass clarinet in Eb / Bb (the largest cuts of the family, they cover the role of the double bass in a clarinet formation.


The term piccolo clarinet indicates in a more or less conventional way all those instruments of the clarinet family that employ the medium-high and acute texture of their range of sounds compared to the more common ordinary instruments cut in the keys of Bb and A.

Piccolo clarinet generally but with due reservations, (as models in D, F and G are built, albeit with less diffusion, very common in America and the countries of central-northern Europe, excluding Italy and the Mediterranean countries ), can indifferently indicate both the clarinet cut in Eb, a minor third above the central C, and the clarinet in Ab, less common as a diffusion but regularly built like the other models of the family with a brighter and brighter tone. They are instruments with the same holes and keys as the soprano clarinet (even if in a reduced version) and are made up of the same pieces (although generally, the central body is unique). The mouthpiece is smaller than that of the B clarinet and consequently the reeds too.

The small clarinet has found great use in wind instrument bands especially in Italy where it is commonly called "Quartino". The cut in E flat is a regular instrument for orchestral use: typical examples are Igor 'Fëdorovič Stravinskij's The Spring Festival, Ottorino Respighi's Feste Romane, Hector Berlioz's Symphony Fantastic, or the famous solo in Maurice Ravel's Bolero.

There have however been composers in the 21st century who have used it as a soloist.

©-clarinet E Flat SELMER- ©-clarinetto in lab RIPAMONTI-

The piccolo clarinet in Ab, known in some countries as the sestino clarinet, was used in band scores and is the most acute and smallest clarinet in the family.


Among the various types of clarinet, the Bb clarinet is certainly the most popular. The Bb clarinet has exceptional tonal flexibility and is balanced both in the low and high register, and these characteristics that have made them the reference standard in the clarinet family. Much has been written for the Bb clarinet: solo, chamber, and orchestral repertoires. A and Bb clarinet is sung in the soprano register of the musical scale, within which it is capable of covering nearly four octaves; moreover, as the name suggests, the fundamental note emitted by these clarinets is precisely the Bb, which is indicated on the clarinet score as a C, a common characteristic among the transposing instruments to which the Bb clarinet belongs. In addition to the soprano clarinet, there are also two other types of Bb clarinets, less known and popular: they are the bass clarinet and the contrabass clarinet, respectively cut one octave and two octaves below the Bb soprano clarinet.

©-clarinet in Bb YAMAHA-

The clarinet in C has a shrill sound, it is the oldest instrument in the family. To get an idea of ​​his shrill sound, just think of the ironic variations that saw him performer in the various smooth music played by the Raul Casadei orchestra. It is not a transposing instrument, as the music written for this instrument is written in the same key as a C instrument such as the flute, violin, etc. Today it is used very little.

©- clarinet in C BUFFET-

The clarinet in A has a particularly sweet sound in all its range. Often it is doubled in the orchestra by the clarinetist, in the orchestral passages in which it is possible to read by transporting the notes written for the clarinet in A with that in Bb, since there is little difference between the two instruments (a lower semitone with respect to Si b). It too, like Bb, is used not only in the orchestral repertoire but also in the solo and chamber repertoire, albeit to a lesser extent than Bb. It is a transposing instrument, as its intonation is in A key, and therefore the music written for this instrument is written minor 3rd higher from C score.

©-clarinet in A SELMER-

The basset clarinet is a clarinet tuned in the keys of A or Bb (very rarely even in the keys of G or C), whose range is a major third lower than that of the normal clarinet (soprano clarinet), written in C 2. The lowest notes of C, C sharp, D and Eb, which do not exist on the regular clarinet, are called basset notes. These tones produce a sound that resembles that of a basset horn. It comprises four octaves plus one tone unlike the soprano clarinet, with four octaves minus one tone. The basset clarinet, like the basset horn, was invented in several models starting from 1770, with different designs, tunings, and names. For this instrument Mozart wrote the first composition for clarinet and string quartet in 1789 (the clarinet quintet K 581) and also the famous Concerto in A major for clarinet and orchestra, K 622.

However, the basset clarinet was not able to establish itself in the clarinet family. The instrument regained importance thanks to the German clarinet manufacturer Herbert Wurlitzer. In 1984 he made a modern basset clarinet for famed clarinetist Sabine Meyer, who has since performed Mozart's clarinet concerto and occasionally his clarinet quintet in reconstructed versions, followed by other world-renowned solo clarinetists, such as David Shifrin , Antony Pay, Kari Kriikku, Alessandro Carbonare, Martin Fröst, Sharon Kam, Colin Lawson, Shirley Brill and Annelien Van Wauwe.



The alto clarinet in F like the one in Eb has a robust and at the same time sweet sound. This clarinet is like the viola. It is made up of a wooden tube, with cylindrical bore and ending with a metal bell in the shape of an inverted pear. In this instrument to allow the instrumentalist's fingers to touch the holes and keys, only the metal part is bent, both near the mouthpiece and near the bell.

©-alto clarinet in F YAMAHA-

Father of the alto clarinet in F, by historical derivation, is the ancient CORNO DI BASSETTO in F, an instrument with a beautiful low tone, which was used by Mozart in the German opera "THE MAGIC FLUTE" and in the "MESSA DA REQUIEM K. 626 ". It is tuned to a perfect fifth below the clarinet in C. Its invention is due to the manufacturer Horn De Passau in 1777. Its name derives from the particular pitch (from the German "Bassett" meaning small bass) and from the fact that its tube was originally curved on the model of the French horn and ended with a metal bell, formerly angular in shape, is now built straight.


They possess a warm and deep sound, but darker than other clarinets. The Bass Clarinet can be compared, as a sound extension, to the cello of the string family. They create the low octave of sopranos clarinets, so there are bass clarinets in C, Bb, and A.

The most used in the orchestra for certain music (G. Verdi, R. Wagner, O. Respighi, etc.), precisely for its mellow and deep timbre is that in Bb. It has a pipe shape, the central body (where the key mechanism is located) is straight and built in wood, while the upper part is formed by a metal tube in the shape of a serpentine (Kiver), at the end of which is the mouthpiece. The bell, also built in metal, faces upwards. This clarinet is about 105 cm long. The music written for this instrument is written in the treble and bass clef. It originated in Germany in 1793 thanks to the manufacturer Heinrich Greuser of Dresden, who took up the first old model of bass clarinet called “Basso Tube” built in 1772 in Paris by Gilles Lot. However, later, in 1836, the Franco-Belgian Adolfo Sax, working on the two previous models, created the modern bass clarinet, which made its orchestral debut in the same year on the occasion of the first performance of G. Meyerbeer.

There are usually two versions of Bb bass clarinet, one with lowest note of Eb, and one with lowest note of C. Both similar in timber but different in size and price. The one with low C is the standard choice of bass clarinet in most orchestras.

©-bass clarinet in Bb YAMAHA-


THE DOUBLE BASS CLARINETS in the keys of F, Eb, and Bb complete the low range of the Clarinet family. The most used Contrabass Clarinet, although rarely in military wind orchestras, is the one in the key of Bb, which is also called CONTROCLARONE, as the most serious instrument of the bassoon family which is called CONTROBASS. It was invented in 1891 by a certain Besson. This huge clarinet looks like a tube doubled on itself twice, with a total length of about 304 cm.



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Written by Maria Maiolo

Published by Clarinet U

Maria Maiolo was born in Soriano Calabro in Calabria, Italy, and graduated from

the ITC Institute "G.GALILEI" in Vibo Valentia on 2018. She studied at the "B.Maderna" Conservatory in Cesena to obtain a bachelor's degree in clarinet. She is the protagonist of several concerts around Italy occupying, in the orchestra, the role of second clarinet. Different events, lead her to write the first novel: "THE COURAGE TO CHANGE". Later She is a guest of several libraries, educational institutions and important events. Her novel, is present in several libraries, including that of Vibo Valentia, Cirimido and Orbassano. It has been adopted as an in-depth text in several secondary schools and to date has more than 400 copies sold.

Maria recently published her second novel: "BROKEN LIVES" dedicated to Filippo Ceravolo innocent victim of the Mafia and the struggles of his family.