GUIDE: How to Test a Clarinet

16th September 2021

Testing any new musical instrument should be a fun experience. But you also need to be sure you’re really testing the instrument, not yourself! Together with professional Woodwind player & teacher Alastair Penman, we’ve put together our ‘Top 5 Tips’ for testing a new Clarinet…

1. Use Your Own Mouthpiece & Reeds

Starting with a set-up that you already know and understand is crucial. It reduces the number of variables down to just one – the Clarinet! Don’t be tempted to try new mouthpieces and reeds until you’ve settled on the instrument of choice. If you try too many different things at once you won’t know what’s helping and what’s hindering. Always try new instruments with your own mouthpiece and a reed that you’ve already blown in a little.

2. Compare vs Your Own Instrument

This might sound obvious but if you’re going to spend lots of money you need to make sure the new instrument is better than your current one. Perhaps make a short ‘wish list’ of things you’d like to improve in any change. For example; 1) I’m looking for more projection 2) Better tuning in the upper register 3) A richer lower register. If you have some ‘goals’ then it will help you find the right instrument for you. Anything new should deliver some of your ‘wish list’ requirements…as well as lot’s more practice, which always helps!

3. Check Tuning & Intonation

It’s important to say that every Clarinet has little tuning foibles. It is impossible (due to the nature of the design) for you to simply blow from the very bottom note to the top and have the tuning needle stay bang in the middle. Every experienced player knows that the Clarinet needs to be manipulated and difficult areas ‘managed’ by embouchure and airflow control. What you’re really seeking to test is how manageable the common foibles are (found on all instruments) on the new instrument with your set-up. Also it’s important to make sure your mouthpiece is suitable for the new Clarinet. Different mouthpiece designs may play certain instruments out of tune. If in doubt please ask one of our team for help.

Good areas to test are basic octave leaps, around the throat notes and in the upper register from G to D especially. Use a good electronic tuner (mobile phone apps are quite often poor quality) to test the instrument. If in doubt about something compare it to your current instrument. You may find you’ve always been a little sharp/flat in those areas.

4. Listen to Tone & Response

These are the fundamentals of how the Clarinet responds and it’s flexibility and tone. Notice that we’ve not even talked about playing any repertoire yet. Start with just some long low notes, then gradually move up through the instrument. All the while you’re listening for the tone, response, flexibility and character of the instrument.

Try playing a simple arpeggio and crescendo to the mid point and diminuendo back to the finish. Try and ‘flex’ the instrument to see how it responds at all dynamics. It should excite you and offer you lot’s more tone to play with!

After these basic exercises try the instrument on some repertoire, but make sure it’s pieces you know well. We want to test the instrument, not your sight reading!

5. Try on 14 Day Approval

If you’ve been testing in store and whittled your choice down to one instrument, rest assured you still get 14 days home trial with it. If you’re testing at home and have either bought one instrument on our recommendation or bought a couple to compare, you also have the 14 day home trial period to do these tests and make sure you’re happy.

6. (Bonus Tip) Enjoy the Process!

It should be fun to try new instruments! Keep a good idea of what you’d like to improve in your head and it will really help the process. If you can make it to our Maidenhead branch why not book a testing room and you’ll get a dedicated team member to look after you and all the kit you want will be pre-prepared. If you can’t visit then contact us for expert advice and info about our home-testing option.