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Topic: Clarinet advice needed

  1. #1

    Clarinet advice needed

    No, I am not buying one. I am planning to write for 4 clarinets. To begin with I will start with a piece I already presented here in pre-historic times (transcription from a piano piece). At that time somebody adviced me to do it different.

    I have now:
    melody line --> Bb clarinet
    2nd voice ---> Eb clarinet (is also sometimes the melody)
    3rd voice ---> Eb alto clarinet
    4th voice ---> Bb bass clarinet

    I remember that that person told me something about timbre and nuance, but I cannot find that message anymore.

    Please tell me.... what is better.


  2. #2

    Re: Clarinet advice needed

    I'll leave it to someone with more clarinet knowledge to give you specifics, but I do know that Eb clarinet is pitched a 4th higher than a Bb. So I question the wisdom of using that for the 2nd voice.

    Unless you need some really high pitches, why not just 2 Bbs, an alto, and a bass? That's kinda like a string quartet.

    Do you know 4 clarinetists? If so, ask their advice. If not, what made you chose this ensemble?

    Try Googling "clarinet quartet". I just did and got over 100k hits.
    "An artist is someone who produces things that people don't need to have, but that he - for some reason - thinks it would be a good idea to give them."

    - Andy Warhol

  3. #3

    Re: Clarinet advice needed

    Klassical has it right. The Eb Clarinet is to the clarinet family what the Piccolo is to the flute family. I would not use it as a second voice. Usually clarinet quartets are made of 3 Bb clarinets and a bass. The Eb Alto clarinet is not as often used in todays instrumentations. It is usually badly out of tune and really is not necessary given that the clarinet's range is over 3 and a half octaves.

    I hope this helps in your pursuits. Good luck!
    [Music is the Rhythm, Harmony and Breath of Life]
    "Music is music, and a note's a note" - Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong


  4. #4

    Re: Clarinet advice needed

    I second the motion for 3 Bb's and a bass. Eb's are evil little things that are only used for playing passages that are too high for the Bb's to play comfortably. The Eb alto is rarely used anymore, and I've never ever found one that plays well, nor have I ever found anyone who's found one that plays well. Also, they're at an awkward size acoustically speaking, and their sound isn't as full as a Bb or a bass. I think they were made to complete the instrumental "family", but as was pointed out previously, the Bb's and the bass have enough range to cover 98% of the necessary territory.

    If you REALLY need the squeally high notes that only an Eb can produce then write the passage as an instrument switch on the 1st Bb part. Given their smaller size, the Eb doesn't have the resonance and quality of tone that the larger Bb does. They're essentially one-trick ponies.
    Paul Baker
    Baker's Jazz And More
    Austin, Texas, USA

  5. #5

    Re: Clarinet advice needed

    OK, thanks. The original instrumentation came from a friend of mine, who started to learn the clarinet in the early days, switched to the sax later on and suddenly discovered that clarinet again.

    I'll stick to those Bb ones.

    [I loved that "one trick ponies" terminology]

  6. #6

    Lightbulb Re: Clarinet advice needed

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymond62 View Post

    I have now:
    melody line --> Bb clarinet
    2nd voice ---> Eb clarinet (is also sometimes the melody)
    3rd voice ---> Eb alto clarinet
    4th voice ---> Bb bass clarinet

    I remember that that person told me something about timbre and nuance, but I cannot find that message anymore.

    Please tell me.... what is better.

    There are more clarinets to choose from than just those four, too (e.g., the Ab sopranino above the Eb soprano (which is above the Bb soprano), and the Eb contra-alto and Bb contrabass clarinets, below the bass clarinet).

    My first real instrument was the clarinet, and I've played in a number of quartets over the years. The most common arrangements are: 3 Bb sopranos + 1 bass, or 4 Bb sopranos. Second most common are: Eb soprano + 2 Bb sopranos + bass, or 2 Bb sopranos + Eb alto + bass. Everything else is much less common (although I've played a quintet scored for Eb soprano, 2 Bb sopranos, Bb bass and Bb contrabass).

    Modern arrangers often write an alto part only where the range demands it, and then often provide an alternate 3rd part for Bb soprano or for a second Bb bass.

    If you limit the arrangement to Bb sopranos and basses, just about any elementary or junior high school band will be able to cover the parts. If you include an Eb soprano (or A soprano, Eb alto, Eb contra-alto, or Bb contrabass), only high school students (and higher) will be able to cover it. If you include basset horn, Ab sopranino, or soprano in D or C, very few will be able to play it (or most will play it on other clarinets, transposed) - typically only professionals have these horns.

    There's nothing wrong with using an Eb soprano for your top line, if you have good players. They do have a distinctly different timbre from Bb sopranos in the low register (although it may be that only clarinet players notice this), and can be difficult to play in tune in the very high register, but experienced players can be counted on to play in tune. If you want subtly different timbres in the melody, alternating between Eb and Bb sopranos is one way to go.


    Grant Green ||| www.contrabass.com
    Sarrusophones and other seismic devices

  7. #7

    Re: Clarinet advice needed

    Most of the advice already given is good. If Bb is carrying the melody then the recommendation for subsequent Bb's and a Bb Bass is good. Eb Alto is really not written for much anymore. Many schools in America have Eb Contra-altos (probably leftovers from when the military supplied school bands with instruments in the 40's) all have Bb Basses and some have Bb Contrabass clarinets. I've written for school bands for almost 30 years and these generalities hold pretty well. Using the Eb clarinet is fine for lead lines and descants but it can be strident if not used judiciously - don't write for it if you don't want to hear it (kind of like oboe).

    Be aware of "the break" in clarinet fingerings if writing for actual live performers. The clarinet's upper octave is not fingered like the lower. The "break" occurs between concert G# and A third line/second space. Also be aware that some trills are not available or are extremely difficult. A great little book that might help in these regards is Clarence V. Hendrickson's Fingering Charts for Instrumentalists. It has helped me thru the years constantly.

    Hope this helped!
    In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.

    http://reberclark.blogspot.com http://reberclark.bandcamp.com http://www.youtube.com/reberclark

  8. #8

    Re: Clarinet advice needed

    I am hardly an expert on this, but I will pass along some advice I got from a professional musician who regularly plays on Broadway and in films: I was composing and orchestrating the score for an original musical and I needed the pit orchestra to sound like a brass band in one number. He advised using the higher Eb Clarinet (sometimes called the piccolo clarinet, referred to by RK as the "small clarinet") and a euphonium (in addition to the other wind instruments) -- so it wasn't just trumpets, trombones and a flute.

    I ended up using my two trumpets & trombone, plus a French Horn (rather than the Euphonim, because it was more useful in the other numbers in the score). And for the reeds, which played the upper parts, I used the Eb Clarinet, flute and piccolo. (I also found that bells helped a bit -- and striking the bass drum simultaneously with the high hat or cymbols a due, immitating the technique used by drummers in Souza's era, where a pair of cymbols were mounted on top of the drum and struck simultaneously with it.)

    I am not sure how any of this sounds live. I'm going strictly by what I hear using my sample libraries. (Subjectively, the Westgate French Horn and Clarinets sound most convincing to me. The piccolo and flute samples bundled with Kontakt 2 are okay if I don't need a lot of variety in the articulations. The rest of the brass, and particularly my euphonium library don't sound nearly as good.) So take this with a grain of salt.

    In orchestrating a couple of the other numbers, I found that the Eb Clarinet sounded better as the second voice under the piccolo in open harmony when the parts were high and the flute player was otherwise occupied. I also used it once when I had a part that fell in the "bad" Bb clarinet range around the break. But aside, from that, the Bb clarinet instruments always proved to be the better choice.

    My advice, if you are orchestrating this on your computer, is to get a decent clarinet library, play around with it a little and trust your ears. Sometimes arrangements that you think will work, don't -- and vice versa. I like the Westgate library. It's not very expensive and it includes the Eb & Bb Clarinets, plus the Bass and Contrabass clarinets. (I never use the latter.)

    Perhaps one of our real clarinetists can tell us how closely this library approximates live performance, or if there is a better choice. My own impression, prior to switching almost exclusively to the Westgate library, was that most collections seem to have a halfway decent Bb Clarinet, few include the Eb, and the Bass Clarinets were disappointing (many sounding more like a bassoon or baritone sax.)

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