Clarinet family

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In order from left to right: BB♭ contrabass, EE♭ contra-alto, B♭ bass, E♭ alto, B♭ soprano

The family clarinet family is a musical instrument family including the well-known B♭ clarinet, the slightly less familiar E♭, A, and bass clarinets, and other clarinets.

Clarinets other than the standard B♭ and A clarinets are sometimes known as harmony clarinets. However, there are many differently-pitched clarinet types, some of which are very rare. They may be grouped into sub-families, but grouping and terminology vary; the list below reflects popular usage and compares it with systems advocated by a few influential authors. See separate articles for additional details.

  • Piccolo clarinet — Very rare. Also known as octave clarinet or B♭ sopranino clarinet. Pitched an octave higher than the B♭ clarinet.
    • A♭ piccolo clarinet.
      • Rendall uses the term octave clarinet and includes also obsolete instruments in C, B♭, and G.[1]
      • Shackleton lists also obsolete instruments in C, B♭, and A.[2]
  • Soprano clarinet — The most familiar type of clarinet.
    • E♭ clarinet/E♭ sopranino clarinet — Fairly common in America and western Europe; less common in eastern Europe.
    • D clarinet — Rare in America and western Europe. Required in Molter's very early clarinet concertos.
      • Rendall lists the E♭ and D clarinets, along with obsolete instruments in G, F, and E, as sopranino clarinets.
      • Shackleton lists the E♭ and D clarinets, along with obsolete instruments in F, and E, as sopranino clarinets.
      • The E♭ and D clarinets are commonly called piccolo clarinets in eastern Europe and Russia.
    • C clarinet — Moderately rare. Clarinets in C are common in the scores of some composers' classical opera, in which clarinetists were expected to be equipped with instruments in A, B♭ and C.[citation needed] Also occurs in clarinet choirs, often as a substitute for the oboe.
    • B♭ clarinet — The most common type of clarinet.
    • A clarinet — Standard orchestral instrument used alongside the B♭ soprano.
    • G clarinet — Also called a "Turkish clarinet". Primarily used in certain ethnic music. This type of clarinet is rare.
      • Rendall lists the C, B♭, and A clarinets along with the obsolete instrument in B as sopranos, and the clarinette d'amour in A♭ and G and the clarinet in G as obsolete altos.
      • Shackleton lists the C, B♭, A, and G clarinets along with obsolete instruments in B and A♭ as sopranos, noting that the A♭ and G often occurred as clarinette d'amour in the mid-18th century.
      • Rice classifies G clarinets with flared bells as altos, with pear- or bulb-shaped bells as clarinets d'amour.[3]
  • Basset clarinet — Essentially a soprano clarinet with a range extension to low C (written).
    • A basset clarinet — Most common type.
    • Basset clarinets in C, B♭, and G also exist.
      • Rendall includes no basset clarinets in his classifications. Shackleton has three in his collection: Numbers 5389 (B♭ and A set) and 5393 (in A). See Catalogue of the Sir Nicholas Shackleton Collection, Edinburgh University Collection.
  • Basset horn — Alto-to-tenor range instrument with (usually) a smaller bore than the alto clarinet, and a range extended to low (written) C.
    • F basset horn — Most common type.
      • Rendall lists basset horns in G (obsolete) and F as tenors.
      • Shackleton lists also basset horns in G and D from the 18th century.
      • Neither Rendall nor Shackleton lists A, E, or E♭ basset horns though these apparently existed in the eighteenth century.[4][5]
  • Alto clarinet — Pitched a perfect fourth lower than the B♭ soprano clarinet.
    • E♭ alto clarinet — Most common type. Range usually down to low E♭ (written).
      • Rendall lists the E♭ alto and F tenor clarinets as tenors (along with the basset horns).
      • Shackleton lists F alto clarinet as obsolete.
  • Bass clarinet — An octave below the B♭ clarinet often with an extended low range.
    • B♭ bass clarinet — The standard bass.
    • A bass clarinet — Very rare.
    • C bass clarinet — Obsolete.
      • Rendall and Shackleton list C, B♭, and A; Rendall lists only C as obsolete, while Shackleton calls A "rare". Rendall groups these in baritone and bass.
  • Contra-alto clarinet — An octave below the alto clarinet.
    • EE♭ contra-alto clarinet, also called EE♭ contrabass clarinet.
      • Rendall lists "contrabasset-horns" in G, F, and E♭ (none marked obsolete), grouping these in baritone and bass.
      • Shackleton lists only "E♭ contrabass clarinet", grouping it in contrabass (pedal) clarinets.
  • Contrabass clarinet — An octave below the bass clarinet.
    • BB♭ contrabass clarinet.
      • Rendall lists also contrabass clarinet in C as obsolete, and groups it and the BB♭ contrabass in baritone and bass.
      • Shackleton lists only the BB♭ contrabass, grouping it in contrabass (pedal) clarinets
  • Two larger types have been built on an experimental basis:
    • EEE♭ octocontra-alto — An octave below the contra-alto clarinet. Only three have been built.
    • BBB♭ octocontrabass — An octave below the contrabass clarinet. Only one was ever built.
      • Neither Rendall nor Shackleton includes these in their classifications.


  1. ^ F. Geoffrey Rendall. The Clarinet. Third Edition. London: Ernest Benn Limited, 1971, pp. 3-4.
  2. ^ Nicholas Shackleton. "Clarinet", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed 21 February 2006), (subscription access).
  3. ^ Albert R. Rice. From the Clarinet D'Amour to the Contra Bass: A History of Large Size Clarinets, 1740-1860. Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 9-10.
  4. ^ Lawson, Colin (Nov 1987). "The Basset Clarinet Revived". Early Music 15 (4): 487–501. doi:10.1093/earlyj/XV.4.487. 
  5. ^ Rice, Albert R. (Sep 1986). "The Clarinette d'Amour and Basset Horn". Galpin Society Journal (The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 39) 39: 97–111. doi:10.2307/842136. JSTOR 842136.