The Bb clarinet is by far the most commonly played member of the clarinet family. Most beginners start on a Bb clarinet. It is regularly featured in orchestras, big bands, jazz combos, marching bands, and folk idioms all over the world.
As the name implies, this instrument is built in the key of Bb. When one plays a “C” on this clarinet, the pitch will sound “Bb”. It is therefore known as a “transposing” instrument. In order to play music written for concert instruments (Violin, Flute, Oboe, etc) on a Bb clarinet, the player must transpose everything up one whole step. Composers and arrangers take this into account when writing for Bb clarinet. In certain big-band arrangements, Bb clarinet may cover parts written for other Bb instruments, such as the trumpet or soprano and tenor saxophone.
The Bb clarinet is considered one of the most flexible wind instruments. It closely resembles the human voice. It has a range in excess of three octaves, allowing for deep, earthy low tones and clear, piercing high tones. In orchestral contexts, the Bb clarinet is called upon to deliver complex virtuosity as well as lyrical, operatic lines.
In jazz, it functions as a lead instrument and offers contrapuntal ornamentation. In classical music, the Bb clarinet is often a featured solo instrument. Some of the most famous solo’s include:
Symphony No. 6
- Mvt I: (2 Excerpts) Clarinet 1 in B-flat
- Mvt II: mm. 68-77 Clarinet 1 in B-flat
- Mvt. III (114-133) Clarinet I in B-flat
Symphony No. 3
It represents the primary melodic voice in cultural music from South America to Eastern Europe and beyond. Many composers for film and television use the clarinet extensively to create moods or identify characters. It has an undeniable ability to capture the listener’s attention and set the tone of a piece, as it does in the opening cadenza of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”