Bass clarinet

From Academic Kids

Missing image
A typical Bass clarinet

The bass clarinet is a musical instrument of the clarinet family. Like standard clarinets, it is usually pitched in B flat (meaning it is a transposing instrument where a written C sounds as B flat), and plays notes an octave below the "normal" B flat clarinet and an octave above the Contrabass clarinet.

The instrument is heavy and has a removable floor stand attached to its body. Some models have segments in their bodies, making them look similar to bassoons, while most are straight-bodied with a small upturned bell. While sometimes mistaken for a large saxophone, the bass clarinet has a bore which is basically the same diameter along the body of the instrument. This cylindrical bore gives it the clarinet's dark tone and low pitch.

While the range of the soprano clarinet ends at a low E, most bass clarinets have a low E flat. Some models have an extended range and can play to a low C.



Bass clarinets are used to boost the overall sound in small ensembles. They are also used in symphony orchestras and as a solo instrument in jazz. They almost universally play the bass part (usually similar or identical to the Tuba part) of a musical piece, though they are sometimes given leading parts as well.


The origin of the bass clarinet is uncertain. It may have been invented by G. Lott in Paris in 1772, or by Heinrich Grenser in 1793. Adolphe Sax, a Belgian manufacturer of musical instruments, first designed the straight-bodied form of the bass clarinet in the early 19th century. It is also used in school bands, and are a good option for starting players.

Musical compositions using bass clarinet

The most familiar piece in classical music using the bass clarinet is probably "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" from Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker, in which its low tones contrast with the tinkling higher pitches of the celesta. Other pieces featuring this instrument include:

Karlheinz Stockhausen's In Freundschaft (1977) can also be played on the bass clarinet (among other instruments).

Bass clarinet in Jazz

While the bass clarinet was seldom heard in early jazz compositions, a bass clarinet solo by Omer Simeon can be heard in the 1926 recording "Someday Sweetheart" by Jelly Roll Morton and His Red Hot Peppers.

Harry Carney occasionally played bass clarinet in some of Duke Ellington's arrangements, beginning in the late 1930s.

Eric Dolphy was the first major jazz soloist on the instrument, and established much of the vocabulary and technique used by later performers.

While the bass clarinet has been used often since Dolphy, it is typically used by a saxophonist or clarinettist as a second or third instrument. Very few performers have used the instrument exclusively.

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