You are here:
The Bass Clarinet is a reed based woodwind instrument that can produce a range of crisp, smooth, clear notes that lend themselves to playing in a jazz or blues style. The deep fullness of the sound makes it exceptionally useful for playing in blues orchestras and classical ensembles. The sound also lends itself well to solo playing and avant-garde jazz, when combined with a deep female vocalist.
The basic construction of the Bass Clarinet is the same as that of a normal clarinet, and appears very similar to a flute. The Bass Clarinet is essentially a long, slightly curved cylinder with a tapered mouthpiece and flared end that allows the sound to reverberate out. The instrument has a series of valves that can be used to change the length of the cylinder, altering the nature of the sound and causing the reed to vibrate at a different frequency. Combined with the efforts and exertions of the players’ lips and vigorous exhalations, the instrument can produce a wide range of sounds. The true Bass Clarinet, pitched in B flat, is remarkably heavy, requiring a flow stand to be played correctly.
The clarinet evolved from an instrument known as a Chalumeau, under the guidance of Johann Denner, in the late 1600’s. As technologies in metallurgy and mechanical fabrication improved, the instrument was modified to incorporate better parts and more functional layouts for fingering. The Boehm fingering system for Flutes was modified onto the Clarinet in the mid 1800’s, greatly improving the playability of the instrument.
Famous Bass Clarinet Musicians/Compositions:
Benny Goodman is a very talented and well renowned Clarinetist of the modern era, producing lovely works of jazz with a bluesy swing to them. Surprisingly, though not known for his skill as a clarinet player, Mozart composed works for the clarinet, and for ensembles incorporating the instrument. Maurice Ravel used a bass clarinet to good affect in his famous melody ‘Rapsodie Espagnole’.
Similarities to Other Instruments:
The Bass Clarinet is large, and often unwieldy, unlike the other members of the Clarinet family. Its brothers, the Sopranino, the Alto and the regular Clarinet are all much lighter and daintier than the Bass Clarinet, which makes them suitable for children, young adults and beginners, as well as travelers and people without huge amounts of space to store the instrument. The Contra-Bass Clarinet is even larger the Bass Clarinet, producing notes that are lower in pitch for a lower overall register. There are also similar characteristics with flutes, relating to the fingering positions and the way in which the instrument is used in ensemble playing.
When the player blows through the instrument for a length of time, the moisture in their breath will collect on the inside of the chamber. If care is not taken to remove this buildup, the instrument can become unplayable. The wood will absorb moisture, warp and possibly crack. Regular oiling of moving parts combined with proper cleaning will keep your clarinet in good condition for many years.