The b flat clarinet: the most famous member of the clarinet family
The b flat clarinet is the instrument most people think of when the word clarinet is mentioned. The most widely used of the clarinet family, this mellow and agile instrument is favored for band, jazz and orchestral music, and has a wide solo repertoire. This type of clarinet is referred to as being in b flat due to when a note written as c is played the sound that comes out is actually a b flat.
The clarinet has a wide range, able to play from D3 (D below middle C) to B flat 6 (B flat more than two octaves above middle C). The different registers (range of notes) on the clarinet have different names. The lower register is known as the chalumeau register, in reference to the instrument that was a precursor to the clarinet. The middle register is known as the throat register, and the upper register is the clarinet register.
The b flat member of the clarinet family has a rich brilliant tone and is extremely agile – for an example of this, listen to the clarinet ‘smear’ at the beginning of Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’.
This clarinet is also well suited to velvety legato phrases, which often appear in the clarinet music of composers such as Brahms and Mozart. Such flexibility and mellowness means that the b flat version of the clarinet is suited for both large ensembles such as orchestras or big bands, as well as small groupings like wind quintets and Dixieland bands.
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