If you are a saxophone or clarinet player, then it is likely you may have considered switching to the clarinet or saxophone respectively. This is not surprising since clarinets are assumed to be similar to saxophones. And you’ve probably heard that saxophone players can play clarinet or vice versa. But is this the case?
In view of that, I took it upon myself to research whether saxophone players can play the clarinet and vice versa. After in-depth research, this is what I gathered.
But first, let’s answer the question that probably brought you here. Can saxophone players play the clarinet?
Being a saxophone player does not guarantee that you will be able to play the clarinet when it is handed to you. This is because, although the techniques involved in playing both instruments are similar, they are not the same. Clarinets have relatively trickier fingerings and highly sensitive embouchures than saxophones. Thus, saxophone players will still need some form of tutorials and practice to be able to play the clarinet perfectly.
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Saxophone vs Clarinet: Similarities & Differences
The main similarity between saxophones and clarinets lies in the fact that they both have a common part known as a mouthpiece. In plain terms, both instruments have mouthpieces. These mouthpieces are proportional to the size of the instrument. This means, bigger instruments have bigger mouthpieces and vice versa.
Another similarity between clarinets and saxophones is that they are both single-reed instruments. Thus, both saxophones and clarinets have reeds that are made from cane. The reed is fixed to the mouthpiece.
This reed vibrates whenever a player blows air into the mouthpiece. The vibration of this single reed is responsible for the production of sound in both instruments. However, clarinet reeds are relatively smaller than saxophone reeds.
several musicians and instrumentalists that can play both the sax and clarinet. Thus it’s easy to assume that clarinets and saxophones are the same. However, they are not. What are the actual differences between the two?
Generally, saxophones are relatively bigger than clarinets. They are also heavier than clarinets. This can be attributed to the material make-up of both musical instruments. Clarinets are manufactured from wood while saxophones are made of brass.
Away from these general differences between saxophones and clarinets, let’s look at some technical differences between these two instruments.
One of the technical differences between saxophones and clarinets is the shape of their inside bore or tube. A clarinet has a different tube shape from that of a saxophone. Clarinets are designed in the form of a cylinder that has the same size around them. In simple terms, clarinets are cylindrical-shaped instruments.
Saxophones have a tube that is cone-shaped and ends in the form of a bell. The size of saxophone tubes increases from small to large at the bell. This cone-like shape makes sound radiate better, especially at high frequencies. This makes saxophones sound louder than clarinets.
To the untrained eye, the fingerings on saxophones might seem almost similar to that of clarinets.
However, that is not the case. Saxophones have a relatively simple fingering scheme, which makes them easier to grasp. The fingering on saxophones changes register at the octave. However, both of the main registers on saxophones have the same fingerings.
With clarinets, the change in register comes on the twelfth. Clarinets have their second register to be an octave and a fifth higher. Thus, you have more fingerings to learn in clarinets for its two main registers.
Also, clarinets have open holes while saxophones have keys that close their holes. Therefore, saxophones have closed holes. This is also responsible for the difference in the fingering on clarinets and that of saxophones.
Embouchure refers to how the muscles of your mouth are used to play wind instruments. The embouchure needed for playing saxophones is quite different from that of clarinets. The embouchure of clarinets is tighter than saxophones. Saxophones require a rounder and looser embouchure when being played.
When playing saxophones, you need to insert more of its mouthpiece into your mouth. This is why most clarinet players regard saxophone embouchure as loose.
The difference in the embouchures of saxophones and clarinets can be attributed to the angle and size of their mouthpieces. Clarinets have their mouthpieces to be as close to vertical as possible. On the other hand, saxophones have their mouthpieces to be closer to horizontal.
Switching from Sax to Clarinet: Easy or Hard?
Even though saxophones and clarinets look similar, the clarinet is quite different from the saxophone. Thus, playing the clarinet cannot be likened to playing the saxophone.
Comparatively, it is not easy to switch from playing the saxophone to playing the clarinet. This is because, with clarinets, there is a lot more stuff you need to master as compared to saxophones. Clarinets are more delicate and have more keys on them than saxophones do. All these make it harder to switch from saxophone to clarinet.
Saxophonists who switch to casual clarinet playing usually face some common frustrations. One of the common frustrations is the flatness of clarinets as compared to saxophones.
However, this is usually a voicing-related issue and not necessarily an instrument-related issue. This means, using proper voice techniques will effectively address this flatness issue. All these make it hard to switch from playing saxophones to the playing of clarinets.
Which Saxophone Is Closest To The Clarinet?
The saxophone which is closest to the clarinet is the Soprano sax. This is because the soprano sax and the clarinet both have identical lengths. At first glance, you might even conclude that they are the same instrument that is available in different colors.
This is not surprising since both instruments have their bottom flared ends to be “open” with their mouthpiece ends being “closed” as well.
However, if you observe carefully, you would be able to identify some differences between them. One of these differences is that clarinets are straight cylindrical instruments while the soprano saxophone has a progressing wide conical shape. Even though the soprano sax and the clarinet look alike, they sound different as well.
Is it Easy to Switch From Clarinet to Saxophone?
It is relatively easy to switch from playing the clarinet to saxophone. However, switching from clarinet to saxophone requires a lot more concentration when playing. The reason is that both registers of saxophones have the same fingerings while the second register in clarinets is an octave and a fifth higher.
That notwithstanding, with a little bit of practice, you would find it easier to transition from clarinet to saxophone. Many clarinet players have admitted that playing saxophones came pretty easily to them. They even went on to play in bands in their first year of playing the saxophone after some period of practice.
Should I learn to Play Clarinet Before Saxophone?
It is quite easier to learn the saxophone after learning how to play the clarinet. Knowing how to play the clarinet will help you get the fundamentals of saxophones quickly. A lot of saxophone players started on the clarinet.
In fact, some high school bands have been known to require anyone who wants to play the saxophone to first learn how to play the clarinet.
However, you should bear in mind that saxophones and clarinets are different instruments. The techniques involved in playing both instruments are similar but not identical. However, you can effectively switch from the clarinet to any saxophone relatively easily when you adhere to proper voicing, embouchure, fingering techniques, among others.
Thus, to switch effectively from the clarinet to saxophone, you still need to put in some amount of effort. You need to seek quality tutorials and instructions. There is the need to acquire great equipment, coupled with regular practice as well. You can become extremely great at playing these two instruments if you put in the work and time.
Which is Harder to Play; Clarinet or Saxophone?
Professional musicians who play either the clarinet or saxophone tend to do so effortlessly. Notwithstanding, one of the frequently asked questions about saxophones and clarinets is, “Which of them is harder to play?”
In general, a clarinet is harder to play than a saxophone. This is because clarinets have relatively trickier fingerings and highly sensitive embouchures than saxophones. Clarinets have more keys on them than saxophones as well. These make it harder to learn how to play clarinets as compared to saxophones.
When you compare clarinets and saxophones, you would realize that the fingering is a little harder when playing the clarinet than the saxophone. This is because clarinets have open holes and more fingerings that you need to learn. Thus playing the clarinet requires that you expertly master a lot of extra stuff.
Also, the embouchure of clarinets is tighter and relatively more sensitive than saxophones. Therefore, the embouchure of clarinets needs to be firmer than saxophones. This requires that you keep your chin flat whiles squeezing the muscles around your mouth without biting.
This makes it harder to learn and master clarinets than saxophones. Saxophones have a more relaxed embouchure.
In general, the clarinet is quite delicate than saxophones and needs more control as well. All these make creating quality sound with clarinets more difficult than with saxophones.
Though the clarinet is harder to learn, learning it is worth it. This is because clarinets are standard members of orchestras.
Without adequate tutorials and practice, it will be difficult for a saxophone player to play the clarinet. No matter the instrument you may decide to play, you need to focus all your energy on learning and playing it.
That notwithstanding, it is relatively easier to switch from clarinet to saxophone than it is to switch from saxophone to clarinet. You should develop motivation to play and keep an open mind as well.