Playing the clarinet can be lots of fun. It has a beautiful sound, you can play fast, and you can even play jazz. But it can sometimes feel like it’s going to take forever to learn. Wannabe clarinetists often ask how long it really takes to play well.
You can play your first song on the clarinet within an hour, and begin to sound good within a few months. It usually takes a year or two before you begin to sound proficient. You musical background and experience of woodwind instruments will affect your learning speed.
Read on to learn about what it takes to become proficient, the importance of having a good teacher, and how long it takes to master the clarinet.
How much time to become a proficient clarinet player?
In determining how long it will take to become proficient on the clarinet, there are a number of factors to consider:
- Do you have previous musical experience?
- Are you studying with a good teacher?
- Are you a fast learner with a good memory?
- Do you have a good instrument?
- What are your goals?
Previous musical experience
Having a background in music can really help learn faster. Maybe you took piano lessons when you were younger, or maybe you sing in a choir. These experiences can give you a head start when it comes to learning clarinet.
Mostly, this means you will have a head start if you can read music. It can be much more challenging and a lot more time consuming to learn clarinet when you’re also trying to learn what the notes are on the staff.
If you’re not new to music, you also probably have a better idea of what it means to practice well. It takes discipline to set aside time to practice, and make good use of that time.
If you’ve already done this in some other capacity, you’ll be in good shape.
A clarinet good teacher can speed things up
Studying with a good instructor can make all the difference in how much time it’ll take to play the clarinet. If you’re in band at school, your band director can be an excellent guide for motivating you to work hard, much like a sports coach.
It can really also speed things up to have a private instructor who can work with you one-on-one as you progress on the clarinet, helping you make needed adjustments and practice effectively.
A private music instructor can introduce you to a wealth of music available for the clarinet. You can learn to play solos and in ensembles in many different styles.
They can open up new opportunities for you like playing in recitals and contests much sooner.
Being a fast learner with a good memory
As with everything else to be mastered, it helps to be a fast learner. If you pick up on the various facets of clarinet playing and music-making, you’ll be at an advantage to learn faster.
For some, the way a clarinet works feels intuitive, so they make progress at a quicker pace.
It also helps to have a good memory. There is a good deal of memorization involved in simply reading music. You memorize the notes on the staff, what the shape of the notes mean, and how many sharps and flats are in a certain key, for example.
Add to that the need to memorize clarinet fingerings, and it can be challenging. Using your memory up to its potential is invaluable in playing clarinet faster.
A good instrument will help you play sooner
In order to play the clarinet faster, you need the best instrument you can afford.
It would be hard to win a car race driving a clunker. In the same way, you can’t progress quickly playing a cheap or worn out clarinet.
You don’t necessarily need a new instrument, but be sure any used instrument you’re interested in is in good shape. A band director, private music instructor or musical instrument repair shop can help here.
It’s important to take good care of your instrument. They are relatively durable, but they do need special attention. Learn to swab out your clarinet correctly, and always put it back in its case.
Otherwise, your instrument may need to be repaired more often, which will slow down your progress.
How long it takes to play clarinet depends on your goals
When trying to determine how long it will take to play the clarinet, it’s important that you know your specific goals. The time it will take is determined by how good you want to get.
Do you want to be able to make your middle school jazz band? Play in your church orchestra? Make professional recordings with the New York Philharmonic?
Playing the clarinet can be an excellent hobby. Many people learn to play in school, but continue to play recreationally their entire lives. They may play in a community clarinet choir or band.
It takes time to become good enough on the clarinet to be able to do this.
Some clarinetists know early on that they want to make this their career choice. There are many ways to play and teach clarinet professionally. For them, their goals may be attainable, but it will generally take longer.
The table below gives some examples of different levels of music, followed by how long it may take to play them:
|GOAL – PLAY FLUENTLY||ESTIMATED TIME REQUIRED|
|Mary Had a Little Lamb||30-60 min.|
|Auld Lang Syne||1-2 months|
|Shape of You||1-2 years|
|Brahms Sonatas||4-8 years|
|Orchestra Repertoire||10+ years|
|Master the Clarinet Library||12+ years|
How much time to make a decent sound on the clarinet?
There are many factors that go into producing a good clarinet sound. As mentioned above, it’s important to know your goals.
Do you want a decent sound or a great sound? If you want to sound as beautiful as Larry Combs, who was the principal clarinetist with the Chicago Symphony for over three decades, it will take considerably longer than if you’re aiming somewhat lower.
The way you use the muscles around your mouth, your lips and your tongue to form a clarinet embouchure is a very important factor in tone production.
Most clarinetists work to (1) form a correct embouchure, and (2) develop the endurance to maintain it.
Defining what the correct embouchure is can be somewhat difficult, because there are many styles that are considered acceptable.
A good private music instructor can help you develop an embouchure style that will give you the tone you’re seeking. Knowing what you want to sound like will aid in building a strong and consistent embouchure.
With the help of an instructor, it can take two to three years to develop a consistent embouchure.
Good breath support can take a year or more, so start working on it as soon as you can.
A strong air stream is what makes the clarinet reed vibrate, so it’s very important to have good breath support.
If the air stream is weak, the tone will sound weak, too. Instead, the air needs to be full and fast when going into the instrument.
You can work with a private music instructor to develop the best breath support to maintain the sound you want.
Your mouthpiece is a vital piece to the puzzle when it comes to sounding good. They may all look the same, but they produce very different sounds from one another.
In general, the stock mouthpiece that comes with a beginner instrument is never going to sound very good and can slow down your progress, so upgrading is key to your learning faster.
You can find a good quality mouthpiece for as low as $100, and it can make a big difference in your sound. Many choose one from the Vandoren line of mouthpieces.
Learners often find that a change of mouthpiece immediately improves their abilities on the clarinet.
Your reed also plays a big part in what you sound like. There are many brands and styles to choose from, and there will be some that work best for your mouthpiece.
After two to three years of playing, a private music instructor will generally work with you on what reeds to purchase, as well as how to adjust and store them. Good reeds will make you sound better right away.
As they are progressing, many clarinetists choose one of the Vandoren styles of reeds. While these are more expensive than reeds such as Rico, they are of higher quality, and they generally last longer.
A number of companies are producing synthetic reeds that are continually improving in quality. One very popular brand is Légère, and you can choose from a number of different cuts.
They compete with cane reeds in sound production, and they last much longer.
How long to get to grade 1 on the clarinet?
Generally, each grade level for the ABRSM exams corresponds with the years you have been studying. So, with practice, it’s possible you could pass Grade 1 after 1 to 1-½ years of work on the clarinet.
This would definitely require the guidance of a private music instructor, however.
The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) has developed exams for different grade levels of playing a musical instrument (grades 1 through 8).
For Grade 1, you need to show that you are able to play three pieces, which you choose from an approved list, scales, broken chords, sight-reading and aural tests.
The requirements are the same for the higher grades, but the music and aural tests become increasingly difficult as you go up the grades.
How long before you can play in the upper register?
The upper register (D7 and higher) is extremely challenging. It takes a strong embouchure, as well as excellent air support to get a good response. Private music instructors may introduce the upper register in the third or fourth year of study.
There are three main registers on the clarinet. As a beginner, you remain in the lower register for quite a while, playing from E3 to Bb4.
When playing Bb4, all of the main holes on the instrument are open, so you’re playing as high in that register as you can.
To continue higher into the clarion register, you add a register key to the same fingerings you play in the low register. So, the E3 fingering with the register key becomes B4, then F3 becomes C5, and so on.
It is considerably more challenging to play the clarion register than the lower register. You need to be even more secure in closing the holes completely. If not, you will probably squeak.
Because of this, teachers usually wait a while before introducing the clarion register, from six months to a year.
How long to be able to play Benny Goodman tunes?
While it could take a few years to play some of Benny Goodman’s amazing solos, you could get started right away learning to play in this style.
Start by listening. Find any recording of Benny Goodman you can get your hands on, and listen to it to begin to get the style in your ear.
It’s an excellent goal to want to be able to play like Benny Goodman. He was an extraordinary performer of both Classical and jazz music.
Two good resources for learning to play Benny Goodman’s music is Benny Goodman’s Clarinet Method (published by Art Music Group) and Benny Goodman – Jazz Masters Series (Clarinet) (published by Music Sales America).
How much time to master the clarinet?
You may aspire to become a professional clarinetist, making recordings of solos, chamber music or orchestra music.
For some music, it takes a great deal of skill to master, such as Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue solo, Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, or an Artie Shaw solo. It takes time to become this good, but it can be well worth it.
|KEY SKILL||TIME TO MASTER|
|Breath Support||2+ years|
|Musical Style||5+ years|