How to Play the Clarinet
The Music of the Clarinet

The clarinet can produce both a tear-jerking, melancholy sound and warm, comical-sounding notes. Captivating also are its bright arpeggios, which excite the listener. An arpeggio consists of the notes of a chord played individually. Listen to these arpeggios from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite.

An example of an arpeggio

Example of a sound fading away

In musical notation "pp" stands for "pianissimo," which means "very quiet. " What does "pppppp" mean then? This musical sign, which means "so quiet as to be inaudible," appears in the first movement of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 "Pathétique." What is more, it appears in the part for the bassoon. Unfortunately, however, the bassoon cannot produce such a quiet sound, so the bass clarinetist is brought in instead, to wait for ages before playing only four notes lasting a mere two beats with an intensity of pppppp-quiet enough to be lost in the night. It is as if, when you listen really intently, the sound lingers faintly on forever. A specialty of the clarinet is producing notes that are right on the edge of audibility.

At the start of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue there is a distinctive phrase that sounds just like a siren. It sounds as if the clarinetist is creating a continuous rising note by gradually shifting his fingers. This amazing sound is known as "glissando" and is unique to the clarinet. Please have a listen.

Example of a glissando