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Why Bb?

Aulos303

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Banned :(
#1
I was just wondering why most beginner clarinets are in Bb? Why flat? Were the early clarinets in such keys as Bb, Ab and Eb? I know some are in A and C but they seem the exception.
 

Aulos303

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Banned :(
#3
I just thought it was a bit odd that's all. What key is a soprano sax? The common clarinet is classed as a soprano I believe. Yet a soprano recorder is in C, an alto in F, tenor in C. I suppose it must be to do with their place in an orchestra.
 

Gandalfe

Admin and all around good guy.
Staff member
Administrator
#5
The piano is a well-loved music composition tool for a reason. Not only do the piano’s 88 keys contain virtually all the notes you’ll ever need to create a solid foundation for a full orchestral composition, but the entire piano is tuned to concert pitch. Concert pitch simply means that when you hit a C on the piano, you are actually playing a C.

However, if you play a C on a transposing instrument, you get another note entirely, and this is where it can get confusing. For example, if you were playing a B-flat clarinet, and the sheet music showed a written C, you would actually be playing a B flat concert pitch. If you were to play a written C on an E-flat alto sax, you would actually be playing an E flat concert pitch.

The easy answer for why transposing instruments are the way they are has as much to do with convenience as with historical tradition. Most instruments are too small to contain the 88 notes of a piano, so most instruments have only a fraction of the piano’s tones available for use. Brass and woodwind instruments are built so that by pressing and releasing sequential valves or keys, the musician either moves up or down to the next note of the scale. The key is that these valves and keys are used in a particular sequence.

Read more ...
 

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
#6
Soprano sax is Bb.
True. However, that has nothing to do with the OP's question. I am not familiar enough with the history of the clarinet to answer with any kind of authority about my secondary instrument, but I certainly can about my primary one.

When the inventor of the saxophone--Adolphe Sax--created the saxophones, he created 2 different lines: one for the military, and one for symphonic use. The military horns were pitched in the traditional concert pitches of C & F, while the military ones were in the transposing keys of Bb and Eb.

Eb/F saxes Sax built or conceptualized included: Sopranino, Alto, Baritone, Contrabass
Bb/C saxes Sax built or conceptualized included: **, Soprano, Tenor, Bass

** I have not seen it noted myself, but some historians have stated that Adolphe Sax did indeed conceptualize a sax that was an octave higher than a soprano: A saxophone that Benedikt Eppelsheim from Germany now has perfected called a Soprillo.

==========================================================

Let me speculate wildly for a minute about Aulos303's original question about why people tend to start on Bb clarinets rather than on C or Eb ones. Simply put: because there is very little music for clarinets other than those pitched in Bb.

When you learn to play an instrument, you are obviously wanting to play with others. Bb clarinets are the most commonly used in most styles of music. Period. Full stop. Yes, I work with clarinet players who have multiple-pitched instruments, but those are pro players.

Since I don't play in symphonic settings, I can't comment on when they might be used there. But in pit orchestra work, sometimes a Reed Book player might be called to play part of a song on his/her C or Eb clarinet, and then switch back to their Bb one.

Going back to the saxophone example, when people start out, no one would be advised to start on soprano sax, since there are no parts for it normal band music. Even adults are steered away from the instrument, and advised to learn it only after they have mastered the embouchure control and fingerings on an alto or tenor.

Hopefully this clears this matter up a bit.
 

Aulos303

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Banned :(
#7
Hmm makes sense. And yes I understand that the clarinet is a transposing instrument. Sax too?
 

TrueTone

Clarinet, Sax, Oboe, History
#8
Yep, all saxes are transposing except C-Melody and C Soprano. (and the very rare C Bass.) And only the C Sop doesn't transpose by octave.
Clarinets in Bb (and Eb) are probably the most common because that's what the most common keys for 19th century band music, and it was the "popular" music then, along with orchestral.
There's still a noticeable bit of music for Clarinets in A and Eb, though, Eb in both concert band/wind ensemble and orchestra, and A basically only in orchestral. (and solo stuff for both, i.e. Stravinsky's 3 pieces and Schumann's Fantasy Pieces need/are written for an A. There's some solo music for Eb too, although less than Bb/A.)
There are still some uses for D and C Clarinets, too.
As an example, Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel's merry pranks has a rather extensive part for D Clarinet, although it's rather commonly played on an Eb.

There are still occasional parts for Soprano sax in (especially older) band music, although it's definitely above beginner level. For example, I'm going to the first rehearsal of a band later today, and one of the pieces we're playing, Grainger's Children's March, has a Sop Sax part.
Parts for auxiliary instruments basically will never come up in the first few years of playing, though, except probably piccolo and bass clarinet.
I've played Eb Clarinet on several pieces in band this year, so there's definitely music for it in harder stuff. I wouldn't expect to see parts for it until after at least 4 years of playing, though.
It's different enough from Bb that you'd definitely need to spend practice time specifically on it.
 
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Aulos303

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Banned :(
#9
I've also heard that clarinet doesn't overblow to the octave, is that true?
 

Aulos303

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Banned :(
#12
So a Bb clarinet overblows to F#/Gb
 

Steve

Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
#15
The Bb clarinet is the easiest to handle for it's size and is the most preferred for it's tonal characteristics.

A C or Eb is pitch-wise hard to control except for experienced players and the tonal characteristic doesn't blend well with other "starter" instruments. And the tone is harder to control for a beginner.

You don't see many brand new clarinet players on an alto or bass clarinet, or even oboe or bassoon (yes, not a clarinet but they usually snag a clarinet player for these). Oboe and Bassoon requires a more advanced player in a sense. Plus how many 5th graders in the US can handle such a long instrument like a bassoon. But then over time the Bb clarinet has been the dominant instrument in bands and orchestral composers largely write for the Bb & A clarinet due to it's tonal quality. An Eb clarinet is high in it's tonal pitch but the Bb's tonal quality is preferred with the As.

If you look at the clarinet family it has one of the largest spread of instruments (of course, one of our experts here will show off his saxophone line). But you can find clarinets in G, F, E, Eb, D, C, Bb, A, Ab and probably everything else if you search around long enough. Handel's 1748 Overture required D clarinets due to it's tonal characteristic that he wanted with the rest of the orchestra. And Mozart wrote some popular pieces for the Basset clarinet in A. So the writer is looking for certain tonal characteristics, they reason instruments have various flavors .. such as the tonal difference between a Cornet and a Trumpet.

One reason the alto sax is the starting instrument rather than a tenor. Just think if you starting band had 8 soprano saxophones and what that would sound like ? Or how much larger and heavier a tenor is from an alto for a young player ?
 

Aulos303

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Banned :(
#16
The Bb clarinet is the easiest to handle for it's size and is the most preferred for it's tonal characteristics.

A C or Eb is pitch-wise hard to control except for experienced players and the tonal characteristic doesn't blend well with other "starter" instruments. And the tone is harder to control for a beginner.

You don't see many brand new clarinet players on an alto or bass clarinet, or even oboe or bassoon (yes, not a clarinet but they usually snag a clarinet player for these). Oboe and Bassoon requires a more advanced player in a sense. Plus how many 5th graders in the US can handle such a long instrument like a bassoon. But then over time the Bb clarinet has been the dominant instrument in bands and orchestral composers largely write for the Bb & A clarinet due to it's tonal quality. An Eb clarinet is high in it's tonal pitch but the Bb's tonal quality is preferred with the As.

If you look at the clarinet family it has one of the largest spread of instruments (of course, one of our experts here will show off his saxophone line). But you can find clarinets in G, F, E, Eb, D, C, Bb, A, Ab and probably everything else if you search around long enough. Handel's 1748 Overture required D clarinets due to it's tonal characteristic that he wanted with the rest of the orchestra. And Mozart wrote some popular pieces for the Basset clarinet in A. So the writer is looking for certain tonal characteristics, they reason instruments have various flavors .. such as the tonal difference between a Cornet and a Trumpet.

One reason the alto sax is the starting instrument rather than a tenor. Just think if you starting band had 8 soprano saxophones and what that would sound like ? Or how much larger and heavier a tenor is from an alto for a young player ?
Interesting site in your signature Steve, tho a couple of links are broken
 

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
#17
Interesting site in your signature Steve, tho a couple of links are broken
You'll note that it says "Under Construction" in the About This Site section. Steve is working on re-doing his website ATM. There is a lot of work for him to do, b/c he switched to a different server, now uses a CMS, and has a whole lot of more changes under the hood that he has to contend with. ;)
 

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
#18
Aulous303, I think most of your questions about clarinets will be answered when you get your own, and find a good tutor who can get you started the right way.

If I were you, I would check around to see if there isn't a clarinet tutor who might help you find a good, used, reasonably-priced clarinet, and help you with a few lessons to get you going. When I was teaching, I'd often help students who were looking for a sax, pick out a good one--since they were not able to figure out what was what when they were starting out from scratch.

That being said, not all teachers are willing to do that. See if you can find someone though, because until you get a clarinet in your hands and a teacher to help you, I suspect you will continue to spin your wheels. Trying to intellectualize this stuff via the Internet without the benefit of holding an instrument in your hands, and a real life person to talk to, will really not provide you with the answers you seek.

Forums and discussion boards are great up to a point, but they leave a lot open to interpretation. Without a baseline of knowledge, that interpretation may often be incorrect.
 

Aulos303

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Banned :(
#19
Oh I'm just info gathering, finding out as much about them as possible in the hope that one day I might have one. Its looking very unlikely mind and I couldnt afford a teacher. I would be self taught, an autodidact. Like my father I suppose.
 
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