Carolyn worked as a technical writer, software user interface designer, and as a gig writer way before it was hip.
The Right Accessories Are Essential to a Successful Band Experience
If you and your beginning band student are new to the world of woodwind instruments, there are some important things you should know about your new (or gently used) clarinet, and the accessories you will need to make music instruction a successful experience. If you haven't purchased your clarinet yet, see my article Best Clarinets for Beginners for some tips.
With a wide range of available quality musical instruments for purchase, knowing what kind of clarinet to buy can be a difficult decision. But the right accessories can significantly affect your music student's instruction experience, too.
Two Must-Have Clarinet Accessories
Two clarinet accessories that are absolutely essential to have at all times are a good mouthpiece, which is a one-time purchase, and a supply of good quality reeds.
A New Mouthpiece is an essential purchase, and should be factored into the cost of a used instrument. If you are purchasing a new clarinet, the mouthpiece should come with it. If you are using a pre-owned clarinet, keep in mind that a mouthpiece has some of the same personal qualities of a toothbrush. The student will create airflow through the clarinet by using the diaphragm muscles and blowing through their mouthpiece during each practice. A significant amount of spittle will move through the mouthpiece each time the student plays.
It is usually made from black plastic, with a thin layer or cork to connect it with the main barrel of the clarinet. Your student will probably want to apply cork grease to the cork on their new mouthpiece before assembling it to the clarinet the first time.
Reeds are an ongoing cost for students who play any woodwind, such as saxaphone, oboe, clarinet, or bassoon. Fortunately, clarinet reeds are far less expensive than oboe or bassoon reeds. You can get boxes of reeds online at a cost that is well-discounted to the price you would pay walking in at the music store. Some band teachers keep a large supply of new reeds on hand and will make them available for sale individually to students at their cost.
A clarinet reed rests against the mouthpiece and is held to it by a ligature. The ligature is a small band of metal shaped to the mouthpiece, and held together with two screws. Make sure that your student has a ligature, a mouthpiece, and a decent supply of reeds. If this is your student's first year and they have never played clarinet before, it is advisable to buy a small supply of two or three reeds for the first week or so of instruction, and then follow a music instructor's recommendation about the hardness of reed best suited to your player and their clarinet, THEN stock up.
New clarinet players have a tendency to bite down and break reeds. Reeds can become brittle over time. Reeds are very thin at the tip, where a student's mouth covers the mouthpiece, and is thicker at the bottom. A large box of replacement reeds is a must for your new clarinet player. The number on the box of reeds refers to the hardness of the reed, and will affect the ease of playing on the clarinet.
Regardless, reeds have a tendency to chip off and crack as beginning student players bite down on them. In fact, although most students will grow out of biting on their reeds, it isn't uncommon at all for a reed to chip. This is normal and your beginning student will be no exception. Unfortunately, a chipped reed affects the ability of a new student to create a normal sound and interferes with the proper flow of air down the clarinet bore. Reeds always break before chair tests, tryouts, and band concerts, this is Murphy's law for clarinet players!
What brands are good to buy? I personally recommend Vandoren reeds. They are an affordable quality brand and are available for purchase online. Rico clarinet reeds are also an affordable option, but spring for the Vandorens if you can. You will probably need to purchase replacement reeds every 3 to 6 months, depending on the quantity you buy. When in doubt, consult with your music instructor. They will probably be very happy you are interested and/or willing to keep your student supplied with reeds.
More Clarinet Accessories
- Brushes and Cleaners. You will need to buy a soft brush or cloth sold at the music store to clean the clarinet. The music student should use a cloth to remove saliva from inside the bore of the clarinet every time they play. Cleaning cloths are small handkerchief-sized cloths made from cotton or silk. They have a sturdy cord attached to a corner to aid pulling the cloth through the clarinet. Tip: take off the reed and then clean from the bell to the mouthpiece.
- Bore Oil is used to treat the interior and occasionally the exterior of the clarinet. Bore oil prevents the interior of wood-bored clarinets from developing tiny cracks. Note that if you invest in a high-quality wood-bore clarinet, these clarinets need to be regularly dried with a cleaning cloth or brush after playing. This will prevent unnecessary and costly wear and cracking on the clarinet. Periodic use of bore oil is recommended, but it is not as important as drying the clarinet after every practice.
- A polishing cloth for cleaning the keys of the clarinet will help reduce the wearing effects of the hands' oils on the clarinet keys. Clarinets with silver keys tend to tarnish easily and polishing regularly is part of maintenance.
- A sturdy hard clarinet case with a compartment for storing music and practice books. Just about any clarinet you buy will come in its own case. If your child is in marching band, their case will probably take a beating during football season. Be sure to label the clarinet case with distinctive stickers after you purchase. All those black cases can start looking alike and this can be a big problem in marching bands that have to travel for away games. Consider decorating your student's clarinet case with a bright colored duct tape or have a label with the student's name on somewhere prominently on the outside of the case.
- A collapsible music stand for practice at home. Collapsible music stands fold up on themselves and can be stored inside the clarinet case. They are portable and lightweight. Depending on your music program, you may be required to provide your own stand for use in the classroom, too.
Accessories that are nice to have
- A metronome. A metronome is a wonderful aid for music practice. Young musicians practicing for solos find that maintaining a steady tempo at home is a lot easier with a metronome. It isn't necessary but as any music teacher will tell you, is very nice to have, particularly for practicing solo pieces that must be played with precision to a piano accompanist. If your student also plays piano, you may already own one.
- A pair of earplugs. Quietly and discreetly purchase these for yourself. Listening to a first year band student doesn't have to be grating on your ears.
More Articles for Clarinet Players
- Clarinets for Beginners-How to Select a Quality Clarinet
How to select the right new or used clarinet for your band or orchestra student, with tips for identifying a quality musical instrument.
- The Clarinet
General information about one of the most popular woodwind instrument, includes history of clarinet, how the clarinet works and different parts of the clarinet.
- Abilene Texas High School Marching Band Memories
I was one of 460 kids in my West Texas high school marching band. Yep, you read that correctly. 460 kids. At Cooper High School in Abilene Texas, being a band nerd was not only acceptable, but popular.
- Learning to Play Clarinet in my Fifties
A baby boomer with some musical training decides to learn the clarinet at age 55. Brava! She describes her slight speed bumps and her fierce determination. Older gals keep vital and keep learning!
© 2011 Carolyn Augustine
Hello, hello, from London, UK on March 27, 2011:
I admire and almost envy anyone who can play an instrument. This must be great help who are learning.
Katie McMurray from Westerville on March 23, 2011:
Very nice and well designed thanks for the clarinet accessories for band students. :) Katie
Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on March 23, 2011:
Husky1970 on March 22, 2011:
Very well written and informative hub.
Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on March 22, 2011:
That is...gross! I guess what they say in band is very true..spit happens and then you play music!
cheapsk8chick on March 22, 2011:
Great information for beginning band kids and their parents! I was so grossed out with the whole reed thing (and watching these kids "soften" the reeds in their mouths) when we began! Of course, the spittle factor is ever present with anything you blow into, I guess. At a solo competition, I caught my daughter emptying her spit from a French horn into her... wait for it... SHOE.
Clarinets are pretty easy on the ears for parents with up and comers wanting to play an instrument, and their upkeep is relatively inexpensive compared to some other instruments. You are dead-on about that reed splitting at the most inopportune times. Those kids should always carry two backups, and keep one in the car!