E-flat clarinet

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Eb Clarinet
E clarinet with Boehm System keywork.
Woodwind instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 422.211.2
(Single reed instruments – with fingerholes)
Playing range
Clarinet range.svg
Related instruments

The E-flat clarinet is a member of the clarinet family. It is usually classed as a soprano clarinet, although some authors describe it as a "sopranino," "petite," or "piccolo" clarinet. Smaller in size and higher in pitch than the more common B clarinet, it is a transposing instrument in E, sounding a minor third higher than written. In Italian it sometimes referred to as a quartino, generally appearing in scores as quartino in Fa.

The E clarinet is used in orchestras, concert bands, marching bands, and plays a particularly central role in clarinet choirs, carrying the high melodies that would be treacherous for the B clarinet. Solo repertoire is limited.

The E clarinet is required to play at the top of its range for much of the time to take advantage of its piercing quality. Fingerings in that register are more awkward than on the lower part of the instrument, making high, fast passages difficult

Differences Between the Bb and Eb Soprano Clarinets[edit]

• As suggested by its name, the Eb clarinet is a transposing instrument. It is in the same key as the saxaphone, unlike the Bb clarinet which is also a transposing instrument but in the key of Bb which means it is like the trumpet.

To go from the Eb clarinet to the Bb clarinet, you go up a Perfect Fourth.

ex) If you play a C on an Eb clarinet, then you would play an Eb on the piano to match pitches. To match that pitch on a Bb clarinet, you would play an F on the Bb clarinet.

The Eb clarinet is usually used by advanced players because of its arbitrary nature.

Differences in Difficulty

• The Eb clarinet is smaller than the more popular Bb clarinet; it can make a player feel overwhelmingly tense when not played correctly.

• The embouchure required is more compact. A student easily finds him/herself "biting" on the mouthpiece.

• Because the Eb clarinet has a shrill timbre(sound characteristic), composers usually use it like they would a piccolo- for rapid passages. Also, it is harder to play the Eb clarinet piano and legato (softly and smoothly) than it is to play on the Bb clarinet.

• The Bb clarinet and Eb clarinet use the same fingerings most of the time(higher notes have many fingerings just like the Bb clarinet does, although some work specifically better for the Eb clarinet).

• The higher a pitch is, the easier it is for it to fluctuate and "bend" with the mouth. Unlike a Bb clarinet student player in an amatuer band, an Eb clarinet player must hear every pitch before or when played to assure it is perfectly in tune because it can cut through an ensemble and embarrassingly ruin a performance. For this reason, most players (if not all) have an alternate fingering for altissimo (high) notes. Also, the lower notes of the clarinet are usually out of tune, but there are extensions for the lower end of the clarinet that can correct this.

• Similar to how a Bb clarinet player should be able to transpose to the key of A in orchestras and Opera, the Eb clarinet player shoud be able to transpose to the key of D. Most professionals have an A clarinet, but not both an Eb clarinet and a D clarinet.

Other Differences

• The modern Eb clarinet is usually composed of a mouthpiece, a barrel, a ONE PIECE BODY (unlike the Bb clarinet which has a 2 piece body), and a bell.

• The Eb clarinet uses a different mouthpiece which is smaller and also has smaller reeds (although there are ways to use Bb clarinet reeds; one can cut the reed; one can buy a specialized barrel which allows the use of a Bb clarinet reed without the lower end of it being affected by a regular Eb clarinet barrel). The Eb clarinet also uses a different sized ligature.

• The Eb clarinet is generally harder to find on the market because there are less advanced players looking to play the Eb clarinet in an ensemble. This means that the clarinet is much more expensive (also because the clarinet must be of advanced player quality).

Use as children's clarinet[edit]

While most E clarinets are built and marketed for professionals or advanced students, an inexpensive plastic E clarinet dubbed the "Kinder-Klari" has been produced for beginning children's use. It has a simplified fingering system, lacking some of the trill keys and alternative fingerings.

Use in concert and military bands[edit]

Towards the end of the eighteenth century the clarinet in high F took this role until the E clarinet took over beginning sometime in the second decade of the 1800s.[1]

Although the E is somewhat of a rarity in school bands, it is a staple instrument in college and other upper level ensembles. Unlike the B soprano clarinet which has numerous musicians performing on each part, the E clarinet part is usually played by only one musician in a typical concert band. This is partially because the E clarinet has a bright, shrill sound very similar to the sound of the piccolo. It commonly plays the role of a garnish instrument along with the piccolo, and duo segments between the two instruments are quite common. The E clarinet is often heard playing along with the flutes and/or oboes.

Important soloistic parts in standard band repertoire for the E clarinet include the second movement of Gustav Holst's First Suite in E-flat for Military Band (for two E clarinets) and his piece 'Hammersmith' (also for two E clarinets), Paul Hindemith's Symphony in B-flat for Band, and Gordon Jacob's William Byrd Suite. The E clarinet is also a featured player in modern wind band repertoire, such as Adam Gorb's Yiddish Dances, where it takes on a solo role for much of the five-movement piece.[2]

D clarinet[edit]

The slightly larger D clarinet is rare, although it was common in the early and mid-eighteenth century (see the Molter concertos below). From the end of that century to the present it has become less common than the clarinets in E, B, A, or even C. An Ouverture by Handel for two clarinets and horn was probably written for two D clarinets.[1] D clarinets were once commonly employed by some composers (e.g., Mlada (Rimsky-Korsakov)) to be used by one player equipped with instruments in D and E — analogous to a player using instruments in B and A.[1] In modern performance (especially in North America and western Europe outside German-speaking countries), it is normal to transpose D clarinet parts for E clarinet.[1]

A composer's choice of E vs. D clarinet is often hard to discern, and can seem perverse. The choice does not always put the music in the easiest key for the player. For instance, the original version of Arnold Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony no. 1 is for E clarinet while the orchestral version is for D.[1] Maurice Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe is scored for E clarinet, producing some very difficult passages in B major which can be played on a D clarinet in C major. Another famous example is the D clarinet part of Richard Strauss's Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche.

Solo and chamber literature for the E (or D) clarinet[edit]

Solo literature for these instruments is sparse. The following are notable:

Orchestral and operatic music using the E (or D) clarinet[edit]

Parts written for D clarinet are often played on the more popular E clarinet, with the player transposing or playing from a written part transposed a semitone lower.

Orchestral compositions and operas with notable E or D clarinet solos include:

Other orchestral compositions and operas making extensive use of E or D clarinet include:

Recent Usage[edit]

After 1950, works using E clarinet are too numerous to note individually. However, among those where the instrument is featured beyond what would be considered normal in recent music are John Adams's Chamber Symphony, where two players play E and bass clarinet and "double" on soprano and Adriana Hölszky's A due for two E clarinets. The extended techniques of the B clarinet, including multiphonics, flutter tonguing, and extreme registers, have all been imported to the E.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Tschaikov, Basil. The high clarinets.  In Lawson (ed.), Colin (1995). The Cambridge Companion to the Clarinet. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 43–56. 
  2. ^ Reynish, Time. "Schuhplatter To Stockhausen - Concert Dance Music". 
  3. ^ Aldrich, Simon (February 1997). "Johann Melchior Molter". Continuo Magazine. 


  • Hadcock, Peter, "Orchestral Studies for the E Clarinet", Roncorp Publications. A useful resource for the E player by long-time E Boston Symphony player and New England Conservatory faculty member Hadcock, containing many of the standard excerpts, guides to performance, and an extensive fingering chart.