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I want to buy a B♭-clarinet, but I don't know a lot about clarinets. I noticed that most clarinets are tuned to A=442Hz, while more expensive clarinets sometimes can be found with A=440Hz.

I don't really understand why this is. Concert pitch is A=440Hz, so I would expect that a clarinet, which is generally not a solo instrument would be tuned to a pitch that allows it to play with, for example, a piano.

I believe, but I'm not sure of this, that a trained clarinetist can change the pitch of the sound of their instrument by changing the tension of their lips/mouth. Would that mean that a clarinet pitched at A=442Hz can play with other instruments pitched at 440?

If this is true: then why do these (more expensive) clarinets at 440Hz exist? If the reason for this is that this makes playing easier: then why are all clarinets not made at 440Hz?

  • Are you talking about an A clarinet, which is also available alongside the more common Bb? – Tim Sep 9 '15 at 9:24
  • I'm talking about a Bb-clarinet. I have edited the question. – Tim H Sep 9 '15 at 9:28
  • Are they? Certainly not back when I bought by Buffets (70s). – Carl Witthoft Sep 9 '15 at 16:32
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    They are: the buffet crampon site is temporarily unavailable but in this digital brochure: flipbooks.buffet-group.com/BuffetCrampon/ENG on pp. 34-35 you will see that the cheaper clarinets are all pitched at 442 while the more expensive are at 440. – Tim H Sep 9 '15 at 19:45
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As tuning up is difficult for any wind-instrument it is better when it comes with a slightly higher 'base' tuning already. If you pull the mouthpiece out you can tune the clarinet down but you couldn't tune it up when your mouthpiece is already fully stuck on the instrument.

You had to do all tuning corrections with your mouth - which might be difficult when you are too much off.

Tuning has gotten higher and higher since the early days. As far as I remember it was around 426 Hz at Beethoven's time. Nowadays there are orchestras playing at 442-444 Hz. This is really getting annoying when you play wind-instruments...

  • You never EVER tune by embouchure. (other than deliberate tone-wavering games). Plus see my comment to Ozdemir's answer. – Carl Witthoft Sep 9 '15 at 16:34
  • @CarlWitthoft: Well, actually you have to when reaching the range between Octave and Duodecimo - because you can't overblow a cylindric tube to the 2nd harmonic (8va) - so you are left with a range of a Quinto (5th) and all the artificial fingerings that you have to use never produce clean straight notes - so you definitely have to compensate it with your mouth. But you definitely should not compensate the whole tuning, of course... ;-) – mramosch Sep 9 '15 at 22:05
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    Even more annoying when you're a singer. Purcell at A=415 is a doddle. At A=440 it is a screaming match. – user207421 Sep 10 '15 at 4:48
  • @mramosch disclaimer: I was a serious amateur clarinetist for a long time. I agree that embouchure comes into play in the top octave or so, but so does good old-fashioned breath control :-). – Carl Witthoft Sep 10 '15 at 11:54
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You can pull out the mouthpiece and tune your clarinet to lower frequencies. That way clarinets tuned to 442Hz can be tuned down to 440Hz with ease when needed. Tuning up is not easy.

However, an expensive clarinet is more likely to be used by a professional who would prefer different clarinets for orchestras with different pitches instead of trying to tune the same precious clarinet to different frequencies.

  • I rather doubt all of that. If your clarinet is way off pitch you should buy a different barrel. And you should (almost) never separate the mouthpiece from the barrel. Separate the barrel from the body. This is unlike saxophones, by the way. – Carl Witthoft Sep 9 '15 at 16:33
  • @CarlWitthoft: The problem with a different barrel is that you undermine the whole bore (scale) of your instrument. Actually the holes are then on the wrong place for the length of the instrument - which you change by changing the barrel... - I think it was meant to separate the barrel from the body when talking of the mouth-piece... – mramosch Sep 9 '15 at 21:59
  • Well, yes changing a barrel moves the scale of the instrument. One would hope to find a barrel which optimizes both pitch and tone. THere's no free lunch :-( – Carl Witthoft Sep 10 '15 at 11:56
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Because orchestras in continental Europe tune to A=442 Hz. It is easier to pull out than to saw a piece of the barrel. What I heard (but don't know if it is true) is that the internal tuning of the Buffet clarinets is to 441 Hz, so that only the barrel makes a difference between a 440 and 442 model.

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