Acoustics of the clarinet

Bb clarinet


Music Acoustics UNSW

E3 F3 F#3 G3 G#3 A3 A#3 B3
C4 C#4 D4 D#4 E4 F4 F#4 G4 G#4 A4 A#4 B4
C5 C#5 D5 D#5 E5 F5 F#5 G5 G#5 A5 A#5 B5
C6 C#6 D6 D#6 E6 F6 F#6 G6 G#6 A6 A#6 B6
C7 C#7


a key depressed
a key not depressed
a hole covered
a hole uncovered
a part of the mechanism that is not normally touched
Details in fingering legend.

Acoustic schematic
a closed tone hole
an open tone hole

Non-specialist introduction to acoustic impedance
Non-specialist introduction to clarinet acoustics

Notes are the written pitch.
Frequencies are the sounding frequency, for Bb clarinet.
Unless otherwise stated, the impedance spectrum is for a Bb clarinet.

Impedance spectrum of a Bb clarinet measured using fingering for F3.
To compare with the impedance spectrum for the A clarinet, open a separate browser window.

At frequencies below about 1.1 kHz, this curve looks rather like that for E3, but raised in frequency because the tube is effectively shorter because of the open tone hole (see tone holes). At higher frequencies, however, the waves propagate past the open tone hole with greater ease, and the situation is more complicated, which gives rise to the irregular shape around 1.2 kHz. (At the highest frequencies shown here, the waves "hardly notice" the open tone hole and the curve is very much like that for E3, and not raised in frequency. See the discussion in cut-off frequency.

For general comments about the chalumeau register, see E3.

Sound forte

Sound spectrum of a Bb clarinet played using fingering for F3 forte.
For more explanation, see Introduction to clarinet acoustics

For this note (and also for E3, G4 and A6), we show spectra for different loudness or dynamic levels (f, mp and pp). Note that, as the player blows harder, the level of the fundamental varies only a little: more important is that more high harmonics appear and that the harmonics already present become stronger. These extra and stronger harmonics change the timbre of the sound, making it brighter or less mellow: listen to the sound files. They are also very effective at making it louder, because our ears are most sensitive in the range 1-4 kHz. (See What is a decibel?) Note also that the base line for all spectra is a broad band 'noise' containing all frequencies. This is due to the turbulence of air passing through the reed opening, and it is an important part of the characteristic clarinet sound, particularly at the beginning of a note.

For a discussion of how the reed motion produces different timbre and dynamic levels, see Playing softly and loudly.

Sound Clip

You can hear F3 forte played.

Sound mezzopiano

Sound spectrum of a Bb clarinet played using fingering for F3 mezzopiano.

Sound Clip mezzopiano

You can hear F3 mezzopiano played on a Bb clarinet.

Sound pianissimo

Sound spectrum of a Bb clarinet played using fingering for F3 pianissimo.

Sound Clip pianissimo

You can hear F3 pianissimo played on a Bb clarinet.

Fingering legend
How were these results obtained?

Contact: Joe Wolfe /
phone 61-2-9385-4954 (UT +10, +11 Oct-Mar)
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