Why Learn Clarinet?

Skip to the end for the TL;DR

There are many careers, hobbies, and side-hustles in this world. People who decide to take up the clarinet, or decide to make clarinet their profession, are rare. This begs the question: why choose to spend so much energy learning to play the thing?

First, the clarinet is a versatile instrument. Remember how school kids are assigned their band instruments? Predictably, they want to play versatile, popular, and portable instruments like the clarinet, trumpet, and saxophone. These children are rational. Only after much tough-selling and brain-washing does the average child agree to learn tuba or bassoon.

I realise that might be a bit controversial, but you can’t deny:

– you will hear clarinet in Mancini, Billy Joel, and Mozart.

– you will hear clarinet leading the folk bands of Turkey, Macedonia, and Switzerland.

– you will hear clarinet in jazz, classical, and funk music

As great as the bassoon is, 10,000 hours spent practising it will likely buy you far less varied musical opportunities down the track.

Second, clarinet is relatively inexpensive. $2,000 can buy you a great Bb clarinet setup which can last you a lifetime.

Would you rather your spouse take up the clarinet, shedding $2,000 once, or develop a passion for automotive restoration?

My upfront, material cost of becoming a professional clarinettist/teacher:

$2,000 on my Bb clarinet in 2007

$2,000 on accessories and reeds

After I won an audition for a military band when I was 22, I bought the rest of the equipment I needed for orchestral work, namely:

$2,300 on my A clarinet in 2014

$3,500 on my Eb clarinet in 2016.

Today I can fit all my professional tools in one triple clarinet case.

For context, string musicians, flautists, and pianists can spend $50,000+ on professional gear, not to mention proportionally eye-watering insurance premiums. A tennis player I follow on YouTube recently tallied the cost of becoming a professional tennis player. Makes clarinet seem like a pretty good-value activity!

Third, learning to play the clarinet is difficult. Learning to do anything well is hard, yes, but learning to play the clarinet is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The clarinet is quite an unforgiving instrument. I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say anyone who’s tried to learn clarinet has encountered some considerable barriers to progress. Why is this a good thing? Learning to play the clarinet first, is like learning to play chess before checkers, or learning to drive a manual before an automatic. Learning a less forgiving instrument first makes learning other woodwind instruments much easier. Some of the best saxophonists I know are clarinet players! It’s anecdotal, but common knowledge that people who play several wind instruments well, often learned clarinet first.

TL;DR: there are countless reasons to learn clarinet. The best reasons are:

– clarinet is a very versatile instrument to learn

– clarinet is a relatively inexpensive instrument to buy

– clarinet is difficult to play, and that is a good thing!

Happy practising!

– Liam Murphy

1,021 thoughts on “Why Learn Clarinet?”

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