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Beginner playing flat -- advice needed

I'm a string player who recently offered to buy my wife the instrument of her choice as a birthday present. I got a surprise when she chose a clarinet, and was set to buy her a Buffet B12, but she insisted on getting a cheap "Glory" brand Bb instrument. After a couple of weeks following YouTube tutorials, she's getting a surprisingly good sound out of it but, while the clarinet is in tune with itself, it's playing almost a semitone flat. For example, when she plays a "G", my clip-on chromatic tuner shows a slightly sharp concert "E" rather than the "F" I was expecting.

The instrument came with two barrels and she's using the shortest pushed all the way in. She's using the reeds that came with the clarinet but I've ordered a pack of Rico 2½ strength hoping that a better quality reed might make a difference.

As I know next to nothing about woodwind, I'd appreciate comments as to whether this issue is likely to be the instrument, her inexperience, or both; and how to resolve it.

Thanks for any peals of wisdom offered. Geoff
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Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Hi Geoff. Welcome to the WF.

First up, let me start with a disclaimer, I am a sax player who doubles on clarinet and bass clarinet, so I'll let the "real" clarinet players chime in with their responses to your question as well. That said, I might offer up the following suggestions:

1. Yes, it could be the instrument.
2. However, it quite possibly is your wife's embouchure, mouthpiece & reed combo, or a combo of stuff.

Although YouTube can be a great resource, nothing beats taking some real, in person lessons with a qualified instructor to make sure that you're not only doing everything correctly, but also not developing any bad habits.

When I have sax students that play flat, there are often a whole host of reasons this happens. Seeing how a person produces the notes/tone he/she does, and hearing it, is the only way I have found to really be able to correct a person's tone, intonation, or inaccuracies, which lead to the problems that they are having.

This is just as true for clarinet. While we can give you some generalities, we can never tell you with 100% certainty what the cause is, and if the tone is what it is supposed to be.

Hope this helps.... Next... paging Steve

Carl H.

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
Are you certain it is a Bb clarinet? You wouldn't be the first person to accidentally buy an A clarinet.

Can you have a real clarinet player (preferably and advanced player/teacher) give it a try?


Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
I hope she's not playing on the mouthpiece that came with the "inexpensive" Chinese clarinet. A Fobes Debut is an excellent mouthpiece for an entry level student. Choose the shorter of the two barrels, and using at least a 2 1/2 strength reed play the mouthpiece and barrel apart from the clarinet. The correct pitch should be an F# concert (piano note). If the pitch is lower than that, the embouchure needs to be firmer and the tone supported by cold fast air. Once the correct "input pitch" is put into the clarinet the tuning should be much closer.


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Amazon ad. It's a $69 horn. There are an awful lot of reviews talking about pitch problems. If you did get it on Amazon, I'd strongly recommend returning it to get a refund. The B12 is definitely a better horn to learn on. I have at least two threads mentioning that this forum's sponsor has new B12s available for $299.

Provided the horn is in tune with itself, in other words, it's consistently flat by the same amount across the entire range of the horn, and you're only wanting to fool around with the horn, not wanting to play in a group or anything, I wouldn't worry about it. Just have fun. Otherwise, I +1 the idea of getting an experienced player to give it a toot.
Thanks to all for the advice. I did get it from Amazon -- it's the same horn but I got it from Amazon.co.uk and it cost a lot more than $69 (clicky link). £79.99 at today's exchange rate is approx $107 US at the current exchange rate. We found no mention of intonation issues when we checked the reviews before buying but it's useful to know they exist with this brand. The Buffet costs £299 (about $400 US) from my usual music store but I was overruled as my wife thought that too much to pay. At the moment, it's irrelevant that it's playing flat provided the instrument rather than her technique is at fault. Pull the barrel out a bit and she has an A clarinet, which I'll find easier to accompany on fiddle or guitar! I'll try to convince her to take a few lessons and put the £300 aside to upgrade her to the Buffet should she get the bug in earnest. Thanks again to all.


Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
$69/$109 dollar clarinet

It's like anything else
do you buy a really cheap car, or a better car ... food, house, umbrella, guitar ?

If you wanted to, there are things that a good repair person can look at such as key heights etc on a clarinet to see if that is part of it playing flat. But truthfully you'll just be racking up the cost of ownership and putting you close to a standard beginner clarinet such as the Buffet B12.

If the instrument has cheap metal keywork you have consistent repair/adjustment on the instrument. Many times it's hard for a new student to figure out if it's them or the instrument having problems when they do occur. You may also find that repair shop people may tend to pass on looking (or provide a high quote knowing that it may be a hassle) at these instruments.

At this point, as you stated, keep it until something else happens then upgrade.

But it's great to hear that she wants to learn clarinet. It's a fun instrument.

And as mentioned above, save for some lessons as at the beginning of learning the clarinet technique is *very* important. It's better to learn it correct at the beginning rather than try and correct it later on.
Thanks Steve. Sometimes cheap works. When comparing my current favourite accoustic guitar with a Martin, I bought my (much cheaper) guitar because, even though the Martin was the better instrument, it wasn't better enough to warrant the asking price IMO. FWIW, I bought an extremely cheap fiddle last year to take with me when travelling. I had to spend time fettling it and also spent about the same as the instrument cost replacing the strings, etc. However, unlike with clarinets, I know what I'm doing with fiddles and so I ended up with something eminently playable.

I suspect that my wife didn't want me to spend more on her clarinet than I spent on the fiddle. I should have held out! Prompted by this thread, I've now found some reviews on amazon.com that relate issues with the metalwork as well as intonation. It seems that those 5 star reviews that persuaded us to buy this particular instrument probably came mostly from beginners who, like us, didn't know enough to make an informed judgement. One review I found today says,
"Band teacher here: please, please do not waste your money. My students can barely put the joints together because they are so poorly made. They will not be able to use it when learning to go over the break (usually second year students)."
I wish that I'd seen that and other critical reviews before buying as I'd have insisted she had the Buffet. That said, if I can persuade her to take lessons ... ... and look to buy her a Buffet for Christmas!

Edited to add: Stop Press! The Rico reeds arrived. We put one on her clarinet and after ten minutes my wife consistently produced concert F# with just the mouthpiece and barrel. Add the rest of the clarinet, and she's now playing in tune. I wouldn't have thought such a simple thing would make so much difference!

Thanks again to all.
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Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Cheap isn't necessarily inexpensive -- and vice-versa.

One of the biggest challenges for any beginner is to slice through the hype and try to find out what's inexpensive to start with and doesn't break the bank if you decide the instrument's not right for you. That's why we have a few threads dedicated to this -- and we've considered pretty carefully what to recommend. Also, if you buy one of the horns and/or mouthpieces we've suggested, chances are very good that you can get a significant percentage of what you originally paid back if you decide that the instrument wasn't right for you.

The sentence I tacked on, above, regarding, "If you're just fooling around with it (etc.)" is something to also consider. If you're really interested in playing together -- again, just fooling around -- you could tune your fiddle to match the clarinet and/or transpose music for the clarinet or fiddle, if that's easier (there's a few free music software packages that can do this).