This instrument, sometimes known as the E-flat Contrabass, is pitched an octave below the E-flat Alto. It possesses a warm and rich sound. It is said to be very similar in response and ease of playing to the Bass Clarinet, and in fact some players think of it as just an over-sized Bass Clarinet.
Overall, it is seen as a more affordable alternative to the larger B-flat Contrabass Clarinet, but this is not so. Both instruments have their own individual voices. In fact, the majority of players prefer using the Contra-Alto over the Contrabass (though composers prefer it the other way around!). Its smaller size lends itself to greater flexibility (and fewer trips to the repair shop).
Most Contra-Altos are written to low E-flat (sounding G-flat below the bass clef), while a few instruments may possess a written low C, but these instruments are rare in comparison.
Anything that the Bass Clarinet can due, so should the Contra-Alto be able to do, just a fifth lower. Again remember, as we descend in pitch, instrument facility will necessarily slow down due to the slower vibrations of the notes.
Please do use this instrument. Many schools will possess one. The added weight to the woodwinds is needed. I have always felt that the Contra-Alto works best in conjunction with, and not as an alternative to, the Contrabass Clarinet. What gravitas is added to the woodwinds when we have both of these mighty instruments!
One final note, it is Contra-Alto and not Contralto!
Improvisation on Contra-Alto Clarinet
Alfred Reed’s Scherzo Fantastique
Siennicki’s Nocturne for Contra-Alto Clarinet and piano