Orchestral instruments are divided into four main categories: Strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion. From all the families, only the woodwind family’s instruments are dissembled into smaller parts. Clarinet, as a member of the woodwind family, can be dismantled into 5 smaller parts. These parts are, from top to bottom, the mouthpiece, barrel, upper joint, lower joint and the bell.
Starting from the bottom, the lowest part of the clarinet is the bell. It is attached to the lower joint and it can come in different lengths, weights, bores, flares, and types of woods. The bell is responsible for creating a more homogeneous sound in the lowest notes of each register.
Moving up, we have the lower joint, which is located between the upper joint and bell. The lower joint is also called the lower body of the instrument, with the higher body being the upper joint. The lower joint has several tone holes and keys that the player uses to change notes by covering/uncovering them (tone holes) or by pressing them (keys). Behind the keys, we find the ‘thumb rest’, which is where the player’s right thumb is placed resulting in a stable clarinet holding position.
On top of the lower joint, we have the upper joint, also called upper body of the instrument. By comparing it with the lower joint, it is shorter, and has less keys. On its back, there is a tone hole and a key fundamental for note-changing called the Register Key, which is responsible for register changes. On clarinets that crack, most of the cracks usually happen to this part of the clarinet.
Attached to the body of the instrument we have another part, the barrel. The barrel connects the mouthpiece and the upper joint and directs sound through the instrument. As with the bell, it can come in different lengths, weights, bores, flares, and types of woods. The barrel’s length also plays an important role in tuning the clarinet.
The final part of the clarinet is the mouthpiece, located at the top of the instrument, and is the part of the instrument that goes into the performer’s mouth. It is partly responsible for the sound generation, and can be made from plastic, hard rubber, wood, and rarely metal or glass. There are several different variable specifications that can make a mouthpiece unique. Each clarinetist in order to find his/her personal sound usually goes through several models until s/he finds the one that is comfortable to perform with. As we said, the mouthpiece is only partly responsible for the sound generation, with the other part being the reed. The reed is a thin strip of cane that is placed on the mouthpiece with the ligature. When air travels through the instrument, the reed vibrates, producing the clarinet sound. Fun Fact: the reed is the cheapest part of the clarinet but without it there is not sound.
In general, most of the brands of clarinets have the same parts. However, there are some brands that choose to have the body of the clarinet as one piece, making their clarinets have only four pieces. This is also the case with the Eb clarinets, but the rest of the clarinet family is made up of these five parts.