Meri’s Musical Musings

Why a transposed B flat clarinet part from an A clarinet part is NOT the same as playing the A clarinet part on an A clarinet

Posted on: June 14, 2013

Some clarinetists, when they join an orchestra, and who don’t have an A clarinet, transpose the A clarinet part for the B flat, in the mistaken belief that the right equivalent notes will make it sound right.

The A clarinet has a certain mellowness compared to the B flat instrument and is much less bright in tone, plus there’s no elegance in playing the transposed part on the Bb because the sound wave is different when playing a given concert pitch note—especially when other players are using A clarinets. For example, sounding G#/Ab on the second line on the treble staff, on the Bb instrument that’s a written A#/Bb, and the standard fingering for that note on most clarinets is very weak in tone, because it lies on the last throat register note, and has only a little tube. But, on the A clarinet, that is a written B, which is a MUCH stronger sounding note because it uses the full tube of the clarinet. There is also the lack of speed in fast passages which would be easy on the A clarinet, but difficult on the B flat because of the extra keys that need to be pressed that slow you down. Not to mention the strain on the fingers having to press extra keys for the right notes, and the tuning discrepencies of the sound pitch note is different between the B flat and A, the throat register of that note on the B flat is usually quite to very sharp, and on the A, the written note (B) often very close to in tune or even a tiny bit flat. Composers not only take into account the concert key of the pieces they are writing, but also the effect that they are looking for, especially in relatively neutral keys which the difficulty level of the piece would be about the same. And, for a section that a composer wants an effect of roughness, they may choose the other clarinet compared to the one they would normally use.

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  • None
  • V V: Wish I had read this before I fell for their scheme ! Oh well - have posted my experience on Yelp and N49 and hoping others can avoid the pain of fal
  • clariniano: Thanks for the additional information. It was actually Yelp that deleted my reviews, because of so-called bias. I too have seen the horrible technique
  • No Thanks: Former Teacher at the Ontario Conservatory of Music I took lessons at the Ontario Conservatory and when I left for private lessons from another tea
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