How do you find the very best clarinet for beginners? You (or someone you love) want to start playing and need a student clarinet. Figuring out the criteria for the best beginner clarinet you can afford is crucial. Which good beginner clarinet has the best intersection of quality and price?
As with most things in life few answers are that simple, however, I do have an answer for you in your clarinet shopping.
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There are some complexities to choosing the right first clarinet. What is the age of the person who will be learning? Some fingerings are difficult for small hands and many clarinets have bores too wide for small lungs to even be able to make a decent note. What is the level of the student’s commitment? If the parents are making the child take clarinet lessons, will the student stick with it? What are the financial limitations? You could buy an expensive clarinet, but why not start with a more affordable option and then upgrade in a year? All of these are questions that affect the decision regarding what is the best clarinet for a beginner.
If you are new to the world of woodwinds and specifically clarinets, know that the best clarinets for students will be in the key of Bb. The Bb Clarinet is the easiest to start on and learn the basics. The Beginner clarinets I am reviewing are intended for those who are just starting, although several of them are excellent choices that will last until the switch to a professional level instrument. As opposed to pro level clarinets, these beginner clarinets require minimal tuning. These clarinets are also made from hard rubber materials and durable plastic that can hold up to the rough handling which often comes with young and inexperienced learners.
The best student clarinet experience
As a teacher I have observed that the key factor for students sticking with something has everything to do with the simple question: “Are they having fun?” It has become my mission to see students enjoy the process of learning. Many parents tell me this has made all the difference.
Everyone needs to have the best first clarinet (or any instrument) to begin on or the high potential is they will lose interest, especially if it is not 100% playable.
Often the instruments supplied by the school or rented from a music store are rather beat up and basic. Not only can they have the appearance of being a well used civil war relic, but they are often poorly maintained, with nickel plaiting wearing off and valves loose or sticky. Simple things like the feel of good key work makes playing enjoyable. I would, however, make my first step examining what is available for rent or borrow. If you calculate the math, if you or your student plan to play for more than a year, it quickly becomes obvious that purchasing is the more affordable clarinet path.
It can be discouraging if the teacher is showing-you-up on their own fancy clarinet. Not only will the student squeak through the first season but they may also be embarrassed by how uncool their instrument is and never be motivated to be very good at it. 50% of clarinet students quit the instrument before high school, when the fun really begins.
It is important to understand that student clarinets are different than cheap clarinets. One encourages learning and exploration, the other is a gift that ultimately leads to frustration and disillusionment.
So the bottom line is if the student is not enjoying their clarinet, then they will have no cause to ever pick it up. This is especially true in light of the myriad distractions available to them right on their phone!
Plastic clarinets vs. wood clarinets
If the student is young, then the best beginner clarinet will be sturdy and durable. I would not buy a a wooden clarinet to start with. Though real wood’s sound is beautiful, several years will be needed before the student’s tone quality has developed, making the difference worthwhile. Wood clarinets are also more difficult to maintain. Student clarinets are designed to be easier to control and stay in tune more easily. So I would start with a plastic or resin clarinet.
Plastic (or Resin) clarinets are going to be better able to stand up to all the potential rough handling that comes with the beginner learning curve. We have phone cases to guard against accidental drops, but sadly there is nothing like that for a clarinet. The Yamaha clarinet has a neck clip hook which is the best way to prevent accidental drops. If buying for a young clarinet student, make sure to purchase a clarinet with a neck clip. If this clarinet is for a marching band student, then it seems kind of obvious that plastic is the right choice. Wood expands and contracts with weather and temperature, so is very difficult to keep in tune and keep safe while marching in the mud.
Using plastics has really opened up the world of clarinets, giving us budget-friendly and long-lasting instruments available to the masses! These lower prices are a life saver to parents who no longer need to mortgage the home to buy an instrument for a child who may walk away from it at anytime.
Budget consideration when buying a clarinet
When you are financially tight, and I know that life, then I would choose any affordable clarinet over none. There are some adequate clarinets in the $100-$300 range. There are also some very bad models that should be avoided.
However, I have to say there are quite a few very good clarinets to be found in the $600-800 range that are indistinguishable in many ways to models that cost a thousand dollars more.
If you find yourself scouring Facebook Marketplace or going into music stores to find a used clarinet, that is a great idea! It is always buyer beware, and if you are unsure of what is a good instrument, then make sure you take someone who knows a bit. There were years I didn’t trust my knowledge of cars enough to purchase one, so I would always bring my father in law along to give his much needed opinion. Make sure you inspect the used clarinet thoroughly. You need to inspect the used clarinet not only for its wear and tear in appearance, but also look for cracks at the joints. This is very important.
Clarinets to avoid
There are some negative factors of cheap clarinets. Many are difficult to put together and take apart. This is critical because the daily routine includes packing up and taking it to school or lessons and back home where the student wants to practice. If, however, one has difficulty putting it together or taking it apart, then frankly, the student will not practice.
Look and Feel: If you opt for the cheap clarinet, it may look fine out of the box but can quickly wear out with regular use. The plating on the most used keys can easily wear off, resulting in the student’s fingers becoming sticky.
Noise: There is a lot of unnecessary key noise. You can put new pads on and work to change that if you are a DIY’er or pay lots of money at the music store.
No quantity of student excitement will trump a low quality student clarinet. The cheaper clarinets may save you money today, but ultimately it will hold the student back. The best beginner clarinet is an investment and should not be viewed as an inevitable future member of the closet or attic clutter. A quick search online shows how many cheap student clarinets there are out there. You can find them in a rainbow of colors. They may seem like an irresistible deal, but they will hold a student back from having fun and becoming proficient. With a good quality beginner clarinet, the confidence of being able to do new things will follow them through life.
Choose the best student clarinet that is in your budget. Do not try and cut corners! If the clarinet is taken care of well, you can resell it when you decide to upgrade to a new higher level clarinet.
Spend a bit more for a student clarinet.
Definitely do not start out with a “professional” model. These are difficult for a beginner to play, because they are designed slightly untuned. Advanced players have an ability to color the sound and make subtle corrections to the pitch, creating a nicer tone, but for beginners this is not helpful!
It is worth the additional money. The caliber of the instrument is noticeable. The mechanics work longer and better. The keys of a student model will be “less clacky.” You get what you pay for and you can really see the difference. When more care is focused on construction, there is less give and looseness. This difference in the responsiveness and quality of the action is where one begins to see the difference when playing rapid passages.
Notes are tuned evenly and better across registers. If there is one thing you want, it is the sound to be more controlled and less shrill. With a better student clarinet the high notes (altissimo register) will be less strained.
Clarinets have some questionable notes. The bottom F# is often very sharp, and the middle Bb can seam quite airy. You want to minimize this, and with a better clarinet more care is focused on the position and shape of the tone holes giving more consistent sound quality. This can make a lot of difference in the quality of individual notes. It is subtle for a student starting out, but as they grow in skill and experience it will be appreciated.
Overall, a better clarinet model will last longer, sound better, and are usually easier to maintain.
Are some clarinet brands better?
There are brands, such as Buffet Crampon Clarinets and Yamaha, that are historical and have an aura of prestige. But when starting out, none of that matters. As long as it is reasonably in tune and the pads aren’t leaking, focusing on good embouchure (the placement of the mouth on the mouth piece) and basic technique are what is paramount.
The clarinet mouthpiece and reeds make all the difference
If you are going to invest in something a little pricier, this is where I would do it. Long before it is time to buy a higher end instrument, the mouthpiece will become important for the beginner’s success. The simple combination of a quality mouthpiece and reed has an immense effect on a beginner clarinetist’s ability to produce a good sound. A better mouthpiece can make a very noticeable difference. Combined with the required practice, the mouthpiece and reed will have a greater impact on the sound than which model of student clarinet.
In the same way that we are looking at beginner level and professional clarinets, there are differing levels of reeds and mouthpieces. Most beginners think that all reeds are the same. Whatever the music store guy recommends is the one we start with, cause they know more than we do at the time. If you want to know more, I have a short discussion of this with my recommendations in another article here. The clarinet’s tone quality is principally influenced by the student’s control of the reed’s resonance. This is the entry point of all produced sound, and it is here that a student will have control to create beautiful music or be an irritant in every context.
When the student figures out the mouthpiece, it can be used with their student clarinet, as well as used on whatever upgraded clarinet is purchased. I would even take my clarinet mouth piece and head to a music store and try out all their different models to see which ones I like before upgrading.
A student’s beginner clarinet is easier to control and stay in tune. As long as the clarinet is maintained, the differences between a beginner and intermediate clarinet will be subtle. Below are my top recommendations that are readily available.
The best clarinet to buy for beginners is…
Hands-down-winner: The Yamaha YCL-255 Standard Bb Clarinet.
The instrument’s tone and quality is beautiful. It has everything a beginner needs to become successful. It has a neck clip, and fingerings are perfect for small to large hands. It will last until the learner is ready to move into very advanced clarinet needs.