Getting right to the point, is the clarinet an easy instrument to learn?
Learning the clarinet as a beginner takes some time and dedication, but if you have the motivation to learn, you can teach yourself the basics. The clarinet is not as difficult as some other instruments like the oboe and trumpet, but there are many fine points that you may miss if you are teaching yourself.
The clarinet can be easy to learn if you pay attention to the basics and do not develop any bad habits. This article will share how to begin on the clarinet and how you can get started successfully!
1. How Long Does It Take To Learn The Clarinet As A Beginner?
It does take some time to learn the clarinet. You may be able to pick up the basics like the fingerings in a few months’ time, but the fine points may be more difficult to achieve.
Most young players (ages 10 to 12) can produce a nice sound by the time they have been playing for about a year.
Adults may have an easier time ramping up their skills because they may have more discipline in practicing regularly and making sure they do not develop any bad habits like holding the instrument wrong.
How Long Before You Become an Expert?
It depends on your definition of “expert.” If you want to be able to play basic band repertoire intended for high school students to adults, you may need a few years of practice.
If you feel that “expert” means that you know all the fingerings and can produce a decent sound without too much squeaking, I would say that it takes about a year with practicing at least several times per week consistently.
If you practice less frequently, expect it to take longer.
2. What Skills Do You Need To Become Good At The Clarinet?
Reading music is a huge skill that you need to learn before learning any instrument. You can of course learn to read music while you are learning your instrument, but it will take longer.
Translating the music on the page to clarinet fingerings takes a little while to get used to, but if you learn a few notes at a time and take the time to study each one, you will soon make progress.
You will also need good breath support to make a nice sound. Performing long-tone breathing exercises can help you build up the strength and quality of your air supply. These exercises are demonstrated in the video below:
Embouchure and Posture
You will need to develop the correct embouchure or the proper way to hold your lips, mouth, and facial muscles while you are playing. The proper embouchure is different for every wind instrument.
Making mistakes with your embouchure or the way you hold your instrument, including your posture, can make a big difference in the quality of your sound; this is especially true for the loudness of your clarinet playing early on.
It pays to learn how to do it right from the very beginning so you don’t create bad habits that will be hard to correct later.
Look Into Getting Help
If this sounds daunting, you can look online for resources (more videos listed below) or you can chat with an experienced player.
If you have the means to get a private lesson or two, it is a good idea to do so. High school or university students can be a great low-cost resource for learning the basics of the clarinet.
How Does Learning The Clarinet Compare In Difficulty To Other Instruments?
The clarinet is one of the easier instruments to learn for a beginner, as long as you pay attention to the fundamentals. Here is how it compares to these other popular instruments:
Clarinet vs Flute
The flute has easier fingerings than the clarinet, but the method of sound production is harder to achieve.
Flute embouchure takes longer to learn and it takes more time to develop the right amount of air support.
Clarinet vs Saxophone
The clarinet and saxophone are about equal when it comes to how long it takes to learn to play. That said, the embouchure and fingerings are quite different. Both instruments need good breath support.
It is fairly common for clarinet players to double on saxophone because the instruments are relatively similar.
Clarinet vs Trumpet
The mechanics of sound production on the trumpet are easy enough, but it takes time to make a pleasant sound across the range of the instrument.
High notes require practice and strong lips and facial muscles. It is not much harder than the clarinet when you consider everything that goes into learning.
Clarinet vs Oboe
The oboe is well-known as the most difficult beginner instrument to learn. The method of sound production on a double-reed instrument is completely different than on the clarinet or flute.
Clarinet vs Piano
Learning the piano is a different process than learning a wind instrument.
On a wind instrument, both of your hands are working together to produce one note.
On the piano, your hands are playing multiple notes each. It requires a different mindset than learning a wind instrument and takes quite a bit longer to master!
4. Can You Self-Teach The Clarinet?
Yes, you can self-teach the clarinet as long as you take care to do things right the first time.
It is much easier to learn the right way to do things from the beginning than starting off without knowing what you’re doing and creating bad habits.
If you can visit with an experienced player a few times while you are just starting out, you will find that your learning process is smoother and quicker.
However, if all you can access is online resources, you can also learn to play correctly.
Are There Any Helpful Online Resources For This?
The sources listed below have excellent information for learning the clarinet. If you pay close attention to these expert presenters, you can pick up some useful tips.
5. Can You Learn Clarinet At Any Age?
Yes, you can! Children as young as 10 can learn the clarinet, and it is possible to pick it up at any age. Children and seniors both may need more time to develop their air supply.
Many kids end up getting braces at some point growing up, here’s my in-depth article explaining if you can play clarinet with braces, invisalign and other considerations.
6. My Three Tips On Making Clarinet Learning Easier
Here are some points that you should keep in mind before starting your clarinet journey:
Putting It Together Correctly
Before you start playing the clarinet, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with its various parts and how to put it together. You can seriously damage an instrument by putting it together incorrectly.
There are many online resources for putting together a clarinet on YouTube. (example shared below)
Tonguing means using your tongue to separate the notes you are playing. Learning tonguing the wrong way can hamper you when you encounter music with faster passages.
Ideally, you should be using the tip of your tongue to separate notes, not the middle of your tongue. Many beginners make this mistake.
You may think that playing scales is boring, but they are essential for learning all of the notes on your instrument.
Start out with the easiest scales with the lowest number of sharps and flats (C major, G major, F major) and progress through them until you have learned them all.
In addition, learn chromatic scales (progressing through every note) as soon as you feel comfortable with regular scales. This will help you with difficult passages in music.
7. A Few Examples Of Clarinets That Are Easiest To Learn On
Finding a quality beginner clarinet can be challenging. While cheaply made brands sold online may sound like a good deal, anything priced under $500 new is likely to be substandard.
Cheap clarinets are often not repairable and will not last very long.
Jupiter is an excellent brand for beginners to start with, I wrote more about the quality of Jupiter clarinets in another article on this site.
However, if you want an instrument that is more durable and feel that you will learn quickly, you may want to upgrade to one of the standard brands like Yamaha, Buffet, or Selmer.
Recommended Clarinet Models
- Jupiter: JCL710NA (found on Amazon)
- Yamaha: YCL250 (found on Amazon)
- Buffet: B12 Student Clarinet (ABS Model)
- Selmer: CL711
I hope that this article has given you a good primer on what to expect as you learn the clarinet at any age.
The main thing that you need to keep in mind is that if you don’t put in the time, you can’t expect to become a fluent player. Aim to practice at least 3 to 4 times a week for best results.
Enjoy your new hobby!