“Now that Samantha has accomplished grade 7, I think it’s time to upgrade her clarinet to a wooden instrument before she starts working on her grade 8.”
It was at the age of twelve when my then teacher alerted my parents that there was such an instrument. I had been playing for six years on a plastic Yamaha which I had from the age of seven and had managed to overcome many of the clarinet's challenges.
The first time I played on a wooden clarinet I immediately heard a difference in the sound quality and everything seemed to be that much easier. The instrument responded to the smallest of changes in breathing, finger positioning and reed strength.
A good clarinet can last many years depending on how it is cared for, how often it is played and the material it is made from; although, I am often asked by beginners and advanced players alike: “when should I upgrade my plastic instrument, and how much I should budget for this?” However, it really is a personal choice; there is no right or wrong answer to this question.
There are many indicators, that can tell you when it is time to advance onto a wooden instrument, for example: when the sound quality is not quite what is desired; when the reed strength is too high to give a reasonable sound on a plastic instrument; or, when the notes in the altissimo register become harder to maintain and there is a restriction on the tone.
I frequently advise young beginner students to try a plastic clarinet (usually a clarineo) as the weight and size, of a wooden, or plastic instrument, can be an issue, particularly if they have never played a woodwind instrument before. The cost for a plastic clarinet for someone, starting lessons, or unsure if they will be committed to practice, is considerably less than a wooden instrument.
If the learner is absolutely certain that they want to pursue the study of the clarinet, then a wooden instrument would be more suitable. Other reasons why a wooden clarinet would be better for this type of learner would be: that more care is taken while handling the instrument; the repertoire studied requires a richer sound and timbre; and, the range of notes used requires consistency between the registers.
If learning has been going well, practice is maintained and there is a sense of enjoyment for the process of learning music, then now may be the time to upgrade to a wooden instrument. When students get to this stage in their clarinet playing I generally advise on trying all makes and models within budget. This is often a rare indulgence; so much choice, and a worthy opportunity to play well-crafted, and often very expensive instruments from a variety of manufacturers.
However, going to a store can be a daunting experience so ask a friend or relative to go with you. An extra pair of ears is always useful. Take some pieces that you would be comfortable to play and make sure that you are not in a rush to be somewhere else; this will take time.
Samantha graduated her music studies with honours at Colchester Institute, where she studied with clarinettist Charles Hine, and composer Jeffery Wilson. In high demand, Samantha has established herself as a clarinet and recorder tutor in Colchester founding Da Capo Academy with Dylan, in 2010. Previous faculty positions include Claydon High School, Sudbury Ormiston Academy and Suffolk One College.
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