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I know the chords to a song on guitar is there any way I can play that song on the clarinet based on those chords?

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  • When you play it on guitar, do you typically sing along?
    – Aaron
    Jan 28 at 4:37
  • There are many ways to play a melody based on a sequence of chords. It's not clear what kind of melody you'd like to play, whether you want to play along with others who are playing the chords, whether you want to understand how melody and chords work together, or all of this and/or more. We also don't know how much music theory you know or how well you understand the clarinet. Therefore, it's hard to give a good answer to this question. Jan 28 at 4:50
  • I’m just a beginner playing solo and I enjoy playing a very specific genre of music but clarinet sheet music is not available for that specific genre, although there is guitar chords available. So I was wondering if there is a way to convert those chords into something playable on clarinet. Jan 28 at 5:47
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    As you know, the main struggle here is that the clarinet can only play one note at a time whereas a guitar can play up to six at once. My advice to you would be to take the notes of each guitar chord and play around with them in succession. As long as you are playing the notes from the chord, you will be fine. Also remember though, clarinet is a transposing instrument, meaning that to play the exact same pitches as the guitar you would need to transpose. If you are just playing around on your own, this won't be an issue, but be aware of it if you do decide to play with others. Jan 28 at 6:17
  • Not convert directly (I mean, you could do that too, but harmonising with a single tone or broken chord played in sequence probably isn't what you had in mind), but knowing the chords tends to be quite helpful when you need to figure out the melody (or vice versa, depends which information you already have).
    – Divizna
    Jan 28 at 6:22

7 Answers 7

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The chord that goes with a given part of the melody usually contains tones featured in the melody (especially those on the downbeats). If you know the chords, you can use that information to help you figure out how to play the melody.

As in: If the first chord is F, then it's unlikely the melody would start on E or G; instead, try F or A, those seem much more promising.

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Clarinets are not good at playing chords - several notes simultaneously - which guitars are good at. So you will not be able to play chords. You can always play the melody, which clarinets are really good at.

Just being presented with a set of chords, and not knowing that melody, many different melodies can be made to fit (ask any jazzer!).

The other problem is that the guitar chords will be in concert pitch, meaning they will sound exactly as played. Whereas your clarinet (presumably B♭) will play a tone lower. So if you wanted to play clarinet and guitar at the same time, those chords will be wrong.

Two solutions - either write out the guitar chords a tone lower than printed, or, play the clarinet melody a tone higher. Either of those will put both instruments into the same key - maybe that's what you're asking - it's not too clear from the wording in the question.

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Having the chords will help in selecting what note to play as part of the melody. As example, if the chord is Fmajor there are three tones that are part of the chord: F,A and C. Sometimes this will help in performing the melody, sometimes not as not all melody tones are part of the chord.

But with clarinet, there is one extra complication: the most common clarinet is tuned i Bb (there are other clarinets). This means that when you finger a C the tone that comes out is Bb. In order to compensate for this you read two half-tone intervals *) above what you read in the guitar chord. Example, if the guitar has a F chord this corresponds to a G for your fingering (F + 1 = F#, F# + 1 = G)

*) For most tones, this means one full tone above, A turns into B, C into D, D into E, F into G, G into A and so on. But there are two common exceptions: E turns into F# and B turns into C#.

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I know the chords to a song on guitar is there any way I can play that song on the clarinet based on those chords?

There are many ways you can play the song on the clarinet, and many ways to base the playing on the chords. I'm not sure if playing from chord symbols is a reasonable first step to try, if you want to contribute to a musical performance on an instrument like the clarinet.

First of all: learn to play song melodies completely by ear, and don't care so much about the chords. To do this, first find the key of the song on your instrument. The key, i.e. harmonic center, gives you a reference point to make sense of what you're playing. Depending on your instrument, if it's a transposing instrument, the key might be different than what other players have. You have to relate your own playing to the key you're playing in yourself. The chord symbols you'll see on the internet will be "in C", so if your instrument is not "in C", then you'd have to transpose the chords to begin with.

To practice finding the key, take a song to which you know the key, and play just the home note of the song, the tonic, as a drone throughout the whole song. In practicing, of course... Bandmates may get annoyed by the drone. For example if the song is in D, and your instrument is a Bb clarinet, on your instrument you think that the song is in E, and you'll play an E. Learn what it feels like. And what other notes feel like, compared to the tonic.

When you can locate the key, i.e. the center - preferably by ear - and you can play the melody by ear, it's already a very usable thing to contribute in a band. No chord symbols needed. As a next step you could learn "licks", melodic lines to add between breathing pauses in the main melody. That's also a very musical thing to do.

If you want to use chord symbols specifically, as already explained, the first obstacle is transposing them for your instrument.

If you know the key, and can transpose the chords (or if your instrument is "in C" meaning that it's not a transposing instrument), you can try playing the chord tones, to learn what the notes feel like in relation to the melody notes. First the chord root or bass note. Then the other notes. The third of the chord. If the chord is E major on your instrument, the root is E and the third is G#. Alternate between these two notes on your instrument. If the chord is a seventh chord like Amaj7 or B7, try adding the seventh and learn what it feels like. For Amaj7, the seventh is G#, and for B7 it's A.

It's going to be a long way. I strongly recommend playing by ear first. If you can't play full melodies at first, at least find the tonic, and then two or three notes which go together with it. By ear. The pentatonic scale could be a good starting point. For a song that's in D major (on your instrument), you'd play the notes D - E - F# - A - B. If you can't hear what you're doing and are poking around blindly according to some "rules", you may be doing more harm than good, and it will be a liability rather than an asset. If you can find even one good note by ear, and you play that note when it sounds good, it's a good contribution.

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A clarinet can take a number of musical roles. But I'm pretty sure you'd want it to do what the vocalist does - sing the melody - rather than what the guitar does - strum the chords! So no, the chords in themself won't be a lot of use. You could try to find a sheet music copy that includes the melody (and understand how a B♭ clarinet needs to read one tone higher than a piano part). Or just listen, experiment, play!

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You mention that you are a beginner, and in the genre you like there are guitar chords available but no melodies.

As a guitar player, let me suggest that you search for information on how a guitar player would improvise over those chord progressions.

Usually, on a beginner level, and especially with simple chord progressions (i.e. I-IV-V and variations, especially in Blues and Rock) there are pretty simple scales which are "safe". And a beginner guitar player would also mostly play single-note melodies when improvising.

If you google guitar scales, you will find a heavy focus on playing them on guitar, i.e., how the mechanical fingering of the left hand on the fretboard works. Often they are even printed in "tabulature" instead of sheet notes. This you can of course not transfer to your instrument. But you can write those scales out on sheet paper - either learn how to do that (it's not hard), or keep searching for non-tabulatore sheets.

Then, you basically learn all the notes that are in a particular scale, and play them by feel. As a beginner, it is perfectly fine just to play up and down that scale, or by skipping intervals, or more or less randomly. You will see what happens, you will feel whether you like it, and over time your repertoire of more interesting "licks" (small note sequences that sound cooler than just neighboring tones) might increase.

The easiest, simplest and safest scale to start out with is the Pentatonic Scale; it has the nice benefit for a newcomer that over a standard blues/rock progression you can basically just play any of its notes at any time, without any ever sounding outright "wrong". The biggest risk is to sound boring, but you can work on that.

If this seems like a way forward for you, again, whip out your search engine of choice and see what has been said about how to improvise muscially instead of just robotically. A single tip I have for you is to try to slow down instead of speed up, and try to "listen into the future" - while holding your current tone, try to imagine which next note would sound good, then play the next note. Avoid playing as fast as possible, which might cover that you don't know what you're doing ;) , but in my experience slows overall learning. Often this might help you to find an approximation of the melody that goes with the song; or you can opt just to keep improvising.

Once you are a bit familiar with all of this, another way to branch out is to figure out which chords and scales a particular song actually uses, so you are able to play along any of your favourite songs. This goes a bit beyond the scope of your question, and there are loads of good videos and such out there. But until you are at that stage it is perfectly fine to just search for the chord progressions and scales of your songs, it is highly likely that you will find a lot.

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If you want to 'play along' with someone strumming those guitar chords, then you have the problem that a Clarinet is generally tuned to Bb, whereas a guitar (like a piano) is non-transposing. If you play a C note on the guitar, and a C note on the clarinet, they will be 1 tone out. Therefore, where the guitar key is C major (C/F/G chords), the Clarinet will have to play in D major (D/F#/A) to be in the same key. Basically, every note on the clarinet is one note lower than what the guitar sound is, so playing the clarinet, you will also have to transpose up one tone each time.

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