madclarinet (madclarinet) wrote,

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Clarinet Musings

As I haven't yet found a music group here (for a variety of reasons and I'm not really looking too hard at the moment) I've been able to play my clarinets and flute (I must get my 'main' flute repaired) for 'myself' rather than working towards something. That may seem strange but it's nice to do what I want to do instead of having to practice. I found a rather nice song from the anime Kobato which babyghia was watching (and I ended up watching most of it) and found a midi file of it. The song seemed to sound like it would be nice on a clarinet so I loaded the midi into my music scoring software (Sibelius) and went from there.

Thankfully, the midi transcribed decently enough and I continued along by adding a clarinet into the score and copying the main tune over. When I saw the key signatures that I would have to play in I saw lots of problems, so I looked to see what it would be like for one of my other clarinets - not so bad so that's the clarinet I choose. This is when this post gets complicated so I'll put the rest under a cut.

So, I have five clarinets (yes 5) - there is a reason though. I have my first (Bb) clarinet that my parents purchased for me second hand and plastic. It's not great, but it's fine and has a lot of memories and sentimental value. The next clarinet is my 'white' one. It's the one my parents purchased me for my 21st birthday, unlike a normal clarinet it's white (although yellowing now due to the age). This clarinet is my main 'Bb' due to it being the best to play. Several people have tried playing it and commented on how well it 'speaks', although plastic it has been my most consistent and the clarinet I am most comfortable with. The third clarinet is my wooden 'Bb', this one, standard theory says, should be the best one to play 'normally'. I got it second hand years ago and is made of high quality wood and the keys are of the same quality. It should be the best sounding of my 3 Bb clarinets but the white one, for some reason, still wins (and I'm not the only one who commented that).

So, that's the '3' done. Next clarinet is my 'A', this is a wooden (you can't get plastic) one and 'lives' with the white Bb in a double case. Having this one allows me to play most types of 'standard' clarinet music. Although you may think that the 'standard' clarinet is a Bb due to it being the one used in schools/marching bands etc the two together are one of the most useful groupings to have (more on this later). It's not used much, but has been extremely useful when I have used it. Finally, my 5th clarinet is my little Eb. It is 'classed' as a Piccolo clarinet or a Soprano clarinet. It depends on who you talk to. I describe it as my clarinet 'that shrunk in the was'. It's not used much but when I have used it it has added an extra colour to the music. I can play it, but it is tight on the fingers due to the size. It's a fun one to play though.

Why do I refer to my clarinets as Bb, A and Eb - this is due to the key that they play in by 'default'. When you play a 'C' on a piano it is known as a 'concert c'. When I play a 'C' on a Bb clarinet it will sound as a 'Bb' (the b = flat) on the piano. Same goes for the others - play 'C' on the 'A' clarinet and it'll sound like a 'A' on a piano. This is not unique to clarinets or woodwind (Horns are pitched in 'F').

So, why have transposing instruments - hard to answer. Some is historical, some is practicality and some is 'just because'. For a clarinet I can give some explanation. Armed with a Bb and A clarinet I am able to play all the different musical keys with a maximum of 4 sharps or 4 flats. This, sounds like cheating - but in truth it's a practical issue. Anything that is above 4 sharps or flats for clarinet is instantly classed as a difficult piece. Even 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' is hard (I know, I tried it). The finger movements alone make it hard. If you look at a clarinet the amount of keys and metal work is large. Compare that to the delicate metalwork on the Oboe or the simple keying on a flute. Each little finger controls 4 keys - add the combinations/crossovers and other fun stuff it gets complicated. Yes, the left little finger can move 3 of the keys the right little finger can - but there is a reason for that. Other reasons can be due to the 'register'. With a clarinet, crossing between certain notes means crossing a 'register' (or 'break') - that alone isn't usually hard - jumping across them rapidly, however, is another issue.

I'll give an example - in one of my music groups we regularly played a 'light classic' - Nights of Gladness. Annoyingly there isn't many youtube videos of it - I found one decent one which is slightly slower than it should be played a bit faster but is an excellent example and you can hear the clarinets very well.

Playing this at the group was a killer for the clarinets. The piece was torture - the notes weren't particularly hard but they made us go across the register constantly and rapidly. The key signature wasn't bad but it was difficult. I once played this at another music group, I discovered that we had an 'A' clarinet part which I asked for to see if it made a difference. As the transposing is different the notes I had to play were slightly higher (due to the Bb being 'higher' than the A). The difference was amazing - this difficult piece became a pleasure to play, still difficult to play but no longer flying over the 'break'/register at such an annoying rate.

A bit of research later and discovered that 'older' music tended to use 'A' clarinets rather than 'Bb' clarinets. Most of the old music was converted to the 'standard' Bb clarinet. Only a little change..... only half a note is the difference between the 'A' and the 'Bb' - but the change on this particular piece was amazing.

One school of though on clarinets is that the 'A' clarinet is for brilliance, the Bb for romance. Do you follow blindly on what you are told to play - some composers insist on a certain clarinet for a reason. Others say they have a reason for it and don't know the difference. Should I stick to one clarinet for a reason or should I 'mix and match'. I have no idea at times but I like to use the clarinet which works best - that may be the one that makes the part easier to play, but it may also be the one that sounds better.......

Years ago I found a fantastic article by Daniel N. Leeson called 'GIVE ME AN A! An Essay On the Subject of Pitches Clarinets'. Thankfully I printed it out as I cannot find it online anymore. I may try to contact him (he is in the bay area by the looks of it) and ask if it is available anywhere or if I can host it somewhere. It's a fantastic article which asked and tries to answer these questions.

Anyway, that's a small thought set on clarinets. I'm going to stick with the 'A' on the song from Kobato I think. Transposing instructions and the reasoning behind them is such a can of worms (but an interesting one).

Now.... I wonder if I can save up for a bass clarinet (and if babyghia would allow it). Mind you, I also want to get a piccolo to complement my flutes too..... oh well.....

Oh, and a nice list of the Clarinet Family
Tags: clarinets, transposing
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