As I begin to write this introduction, I have my old B-flat Clarinet in my hands. I just gave it a few good blows to reacquaint myself with its sound. In the band world, the clarinet is the most commonly heard sound there is. There are more clarinets in the band than there are any other instruments. I was the favorite instrument of Mozart, and has had huge popularity ever since. The clarinet comes in more sizes than any other woodwinds. Were I so inclined, I could readily purchase clarinets in nearly every key of a diatonic scale (A-flat, G, E-flat, D, C, B-flat, A, G, F, E-flat – yes, clarinets exist in every single one of those keys!).
It is possible to think of the clarinet family as we would the taxonomy of living species. The genus Clarinet has many species, and several of those species have further subspecies. Just as in wildlife, the true taxonomy of some of these beasts is debated. Many of these species and subspecies, again like our wildlife, are in danger of going extinct (and six members of the family already have expired). Genus – Clarinet
A rather curious way of looking at musical instruments, I’m sure, but it does give us the breadth of the family. Each “subspecies” is a valid instrument in its own right and has a unique voice. In the traditional band setting we used only those instruments pitched either in E-flat or B-flat. Instruments that fell outside of these pitch classes were excluded (though many were and are still used in orchestras).
- Genus – Clarinet
- Species – Piccolo
- Species – Sopranino
- Species – Soprano
- Species – Alto
- Species – Bass
- Subspecies – C Bass (extinct)
- Subspecies – B-flat Bass (common)
- Subspecies – A Bass (extinct, though some individuals may still exist)
- Species – Contrabass
- Species – Sub-Contrabass
The Complete family