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bass clarinet, clarinet family, Bb clarinet
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Bass clarinet: the deeper voice

While not the lowest member of the clarinet family (that is the contrabass clarinet) the bass clarinet is the deeper voiced of the two regularly used clarinets (the other being the b flat clarinet). This velvety voiced instrument is regularly included in modern orchestras, and an also be found in military bands and clarinet orchestras.

The modern bass version of the clarinet is usually attributed to Adolph Sax, the prodigious 19th century musical instrument inventor. By the mid 19th century the bass member of the clarinet family was being regular employed by composers, including Wagner, Liszt and later Richard Strauss. While often used to bring fullness to the bass end of the woodwind section, it is also suited to solos requiring a melancholy or mysterious tone. The range of the bass is almost an octave below that of the b flat, from a b flat written below the bass clef to b flat above the treble clef. Players of the bass instrument are required to read both treble and bass clef.

The playing techniques for a bass member of the clarinet family are the same as those required for higher pitched clarinets. Due to the fact the bass is a larger instrument the response times can be a little longer than with smaller instruments. The bass version of the clarinet is twice the size of a b flat instrument. Unlike the b flat, on the bass instrument all the holes on the instrument are covered by keys. This is due to the fact that some holes are not able to be reached by the fingers, and also because they are too large to be covered completely by most finger tips.

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written by Natalia Forrest


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