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I am starting to compose for clarinet and read that the clarinet has 3 different registers, which, it is said, are not easy to change between. Do composers only use one register or is it easily possible to combine registers?

EDIT "which, it is said, are not easy to change between" - I took this from some beginner tutorials.

Thanks for all answers, you were a huge help.

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  • What proficiency level of players do you want to address? If it's beyond intermediate, I can't image that this is relevant (except superfast passages with little time in between).
    – guidot
    Jul 27, 2023 at 7:11
  • Why would you think so? The only thing that makes shifting register harder on clarinet than with other wind instruments is that due to being cylindrical bore they overblow into the second overtones, so you do not go up an octave, but a duodecime, which means you need to use different fingering.
    – Lazy
    Jul 27, 2023 at 8:37
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    "It is said..." No, actually it isn't. Jul 27, 2023 at 18:56
  • @Lazy I took this from a beginner video which I seem to have misinterpreted. Unfortunately I have no experience with this instrument. Jul 27, 2023 at 20:02
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    As a (non-professional) clarinet player, the answer I want to give is "between 1.5 and 2.5 registers". Pros can play three full registers without even trying too hard. The rest of us can be very comfortable with the chalumeau and clarion registers, while the altissimo register is less easy to master. All that aside, unless it’s a piece that features the clarinet, you’ll want to stay in the bottom three octaves of its range. Reviewing clarinet compositions and studying orchestration should help a lot. Jul 28, 2023 at 9:23

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Any clarinet player more advanced than a complete beginner can change effortlessly between registers. That's not something a composer needs to think about.

The same applies for other woodwind instruments, all of which have registers.

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  • Maybe don't write a trill over a register break? At least that is what I was told, although I guess there are alternative fingerings that more advanced players can use to work around this.
    – Ian Goldby
    Jul 27, 2023 at 14:17
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    @IanGoldby That's what the trill keys are for.
    – PiedPiper
    Jul 27, 2023 at 14:48
  • I was told off for writing the fast repeating C, D, F# figure across the break in an arrangement of the Black and White Rag. And it certainly did look most awkward to play.
    – Ian Goldby
    Jul 27, 2023 at 19:20
  • @IanGoldby It´s possible to write awkward figures anywhere on the instrument.
    – PiedPiper
    Jul 28, 2023 at 8:46
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Concert band composers alone mercilessly write music for both of the clarinet's lower 2 registers in the same piece. Beyond perhaps Grade 1.5 concert band music, it's tough to find a clarinet part that doesn't involve both of the lower 2 registers.

This persists regardless of the type of clarinet. Yes, the same applies to bass clarinet.

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    The first two sentences of this answer confuse me; they seem to say opposite things. Does the first sentence mean "only concert band composers use the lower 2 registers"? Jul 27, 2023 at 14:43
  • @AndyBonner - No, I mean that concert band composers use the lower 2 registers (FWIW, I have only ever heard of altissimo in solo instrument contexts) and, for the purposes of this sentence, I am disregarding all other composers and how they treat the other clarinet registers (although I'm dead sure some composers write for the altissimo register).
    – Dekkadeci
    Jul 28, 2023 at 7:03
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Don't worry about it. You can write freely across the whole range of the instrument.

Listen to this. The glissando is tricky to perform. But the actual change of registers isn't.

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