Congratulations on making the decision to purchase your very own bass clarinet! Maybe you finally got fed up with the school’s instrument, or maybe you are looking to specialize in this wonderful member of the clarinet family – whatever the reason, here’s everything you need to know before purchasing a bass clarinet:
- How low can you go? While most of the soprano clarinets have the same range and key mechanisms, lower instruments can vary in range. Some bass clarinet models only go down to low Eb (concert Db), while others extend to low C (concert B-flat). The lower the range, the more keys the instrument will have to play these notes. Bass clarinets will also vary in length according to their range. Make sure you know the specific requirements you are looking for on your bass clarinet.
- Plastic or wood? The body of a bass clarinet can be made from plastic or wood. Plastic bass clarinets are significantly cheaper but lack the same resonance and tone color as wooden bass clarinets.
- New or used? Used instruments are often at a better price point than new, but there is no guarantee that the instrument has been well-maintained throughout its life. If you decide to buy a used bass clarinet, have a trusted repair technician inspect it before you consider purchasing it. Additionally, knowing its history and if it has been steadily played or not, is a consideration. If it has sat for a long time it is more likely to crack which could result in a very expensive repair or perhaps even the replacement of a section that could cost you thousands of dollars.
- Do your research. Bass clarinets are quite an investment, so it pays to make sure you are getting the best price for your instrument. You can also see if the vendor offers warranties or any accessories (reeds, repairs, mouthpiece, etc) with your purchase. Create a list with your favorite brands, models, and dealers to help you narrow down your selections.
- Try before you buy. For such an important investment, make sure you try several different instruments before you make your final decision. If you don’t live near a music store or clarinet dealer with a stock of bass clarinets, be on the lookout for clarinet or woodwind days, where many dealers will have a selection of their products for you to try. If this isn’t an option, seek out dealers with trial programs where you can try instruments from the comforts of your own home. (Just make sure to read the trial procedures carefully so you’re not charged any hefty fees for restocking, missing shipping dates or any other details.) As you try different bass clarinets, pay careful attention to the tuning to make sure there are no tuning issues with the instrument.
Choosing your bass clarinet is just the first step of the equation! Once you’ve chosen the instrument, there are several other equipment upgrades you can make to further improve the quality of your bass clarinet to make it sound even better:
- Upgrade your mouthpiece and ligature. Most stock mouthpieces and ligatures are not of the same quality as professional line ones on the market, so be sure to try a selection of bass clarinet mouthpieces and ligatures to find ones that work best with your new instrument.
- Try different necks. The metal neck connects the mouthpiece to the top of the instrument and is essentially an elongated barrel. Bass clarinet necks come in various finishes (silver, gold, rose gold, etc) which all have different responses.
- Experiment with reeds. If you are new to bass clarinet, you might find that you have to go down a size or two in reed strength to create a warm and resonant sound.
- Find a case. Most instruments come with cases, but now’s the time to customize your case to fit your performing needs. Explore all options – double or triple cases, backpack cases, hard shell cases, case covers, or any other case which helps best transport your new bass clarinet.
- Buy a bass clarinet stand. Buy a sturdy stand so your bass clarinet has somewhere to hang out when you’re not practicing. Make sure that this stand will protect the delicate keywork of the bass clarinet.
Once you’ve gotten all the necessary accoutrements, here are a few important skills and techniques to review:
- Embouchure. Since the angle of entry is different on the soprano and bass clarinet, you will need to develop an embouchure on the bass clarinet to produce your best sound. Different necks have different angles, and companies have changed the design over time to more closely mimic the soprano clarinet.
- Bass clef. Make sure you are comfortable reading in bass clef, as many orchestral pieces and solos are written in this clef.
- Transposition. Many orchestral bass clarinet parts are written in A (we’re looking at you, Wagner!), so brush up on some transposition or order the pre-transposed parts before the first rehearsal. These transposed parts are especially useful when you’re reading music in bass clef in A.
- Scales. Practicing scales should always be a crucial part of your warmup routine, but it is especially important when first learning the bass clarinet so your fingers can become accustomed to the larger keyboard of the bass clarinet. In addition to clarinet books, bassoon methods are great resources since they have a similar range.
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