Clarinets actually comprise a family of instruments of differing sizes and pitches. It is the largest such instrument family, with more than a dozen types. Of these many are rare or obsolete, and music written for them is usually played on one of the more common size instruments. The unmodified word clarinet usually refers to the BTemplate:Music soprano clarinet, by far the most common clarinet. (See "Clarinet Family").
A person who plays the clarinet is called a clarinetist or clarinettist.
Clarinets are used in orchestras, woodwind ensembles, jazz bands, concert bands, marching and pep bands, and many more groups. It can also be a solo instrument, either accompanied or unaccompanied.
- The clarinet is generally considered the most versatile woodwind instrument. This is because it has the widest pitch range of the woodwinds.
- A clarinetist will usually need to have 2 distinct instruments during a performance. This is because certain passages may be particularly difficult due to the instrument's key arrangement. The first clarinet is tuned to B flat, and the second to E flat.
- In orchestral music, a piece with many sharps instead of flats would require an A clarinet.
- Like the saxophone, the clarinet employs a single reed in order to produce its sound. However, the player's embouchure is different to that of a saxophone. The reed, also like the saxophone, can wear out, and the player needs quite a large amount of reeds to choose from depending on the atmosphere, acoustics of the concert hall, and other factors.
- Like the flute, the clarinet has a cylindrical bore, but unlike the flute, the clarinet also has a flared bell similar to a trumpet's.