The Eb “sopranino” Clarinet is the smallest, highest pitched member of the standard clarinet line up. Originally created to replace the high trumpet, the Eb clarinet produces a high, piercing sound, similar to the piccolo flute. Historically, the Eb clarinet was used in military and marching bands. Its ability to cut through the din made it invaluable for large ensembles, playing outdoors.
This instrument shares many characteristics with its larger siblings. The key system and fingerings are the same as the Bb clarinet, and both instruments are made with the same materials. The Eb uses a smaller mouthpiece and reeds, and its fingerboard is considerably more compact. While standard Bb technique may be translated to the Eb clarinet, it takes refined practice to develop tone quality, maintain intonation, and gain familiarity with alternate fingerings.
Modern orchestras and wind ensembles utilize the Eb to support flute and oboe lines, and to express melodic passages that would be too high for the standard Bb clarinet. While these groups may have a clarinet section, there will typically be only one Eb clarinet player. In practice, the principal clarinet player may take on the Eb roll. More commonly, a highly skilled clarinetist will play Eb in lieu of a principal position, or when the principal clarinet seat is already filled.
Despite its petite stature, the Eb clarinet is not a suitable choice for children or beginners. It requires advanced technique, well trained ears, and many hours of specialized practice. It is an excellent investment for advancing students, professional and pre-professional players. If you want to dramatically improve your Bb clarinet playing, learn to play the Eb. Many clarinetists acquire an Eb to develop their skills well before any playing opportunities arise.
Here are a few famous Eb clarinet excerpts.