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How To Play, Test, and Select a New Clarinet

by Sheldon Kurtzweil, Inst. of Clarinet, The University of Notre Dame

Selecting a new instrument can be a very daunting task but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few simple procedures that you may follow to keep yourself focused on the elements that matter.


On your initial play test, you should be asking yourself the all-important question; “Does this clarinet play with the sound for which I am looking”. Play slowly in all registers paying special attention to the color and vibrancy of the tone. I like to play a slow F major scale from bottom to top and back again. Listen for an even sound with consistent color from note to note.

Comfort and Security

If the tone of a clarinet meets your standards, see that it plays comfortably under many different playing situations. Be sure to check the following:

  • Response: In all registers, initiate and sustain a tone at the extreme dynamic levels. Does the clarinet respond immediately and can the sound be controlled?
  • Articulation: Does the clarinet articulate cleanly in all registers and dynamic levels?
  • Resistance: In all registers and dynamic levels, does the clarinet blow comfortably without too much or too little backpressure. Remember that your mouthpiece and reed setup effects resistance more greatly than the clarinet so be sure to use the same setup on every clarinet your trying.

Finally, be sure that the clarinet you are choosing plays in tune. Not only with other instruments or a strobe but also with itself.

  • Tune the throat “G” and pull the barrel if necessary.
  • Again play a slow F scale. Listen for even steps between notes.
  • Next, play slow arpeggios checking for intonation consistency.
  • Finally, check the 12th (ex. Low F to middle C) checking for spread or intervals that are wider than an in tune 12th.

Once you have found a clarinet that meets all of the above criteria, congratulations, you’ve found an instrument that should play well for years.