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.