Clarinet Acoustics

A site dedicated to understanding the clarinet and clarinettists

Where to start

Introduction to clarinet acoustics is just that, and a good place to start. There's also a non-technical article on the acoustics of woodwind instruments and a multimedia background to waves and sound. If you strike a term or idea you don't know, try the Basics list on the navigation bar.

We have recently been studying articulation. We study human players but also use the NICTA-UNSW clarinet robot (which won an international competition for music robots) in much of our research, including studies of how breath pressure and embouchure affect tone, and how tonguing controls transients.

Data for each note: Acoustic response, Spectra, Sound files and Fingering

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

We have measured these for standard fingerings on a Bb clarinet: just click on the image above. For some notes, measurements on an A clarinet are available for comparison. The acoustic response tells us how easily the clarinet responds to every frequency. For explanations, see What is acoustic response and why is it important? See also What is a sound spectrum?

For normal fingerings and for low notes, the frequencies of the impedance peaks are in harmonic ratios (f, 2f, 3f ...). For the note with frequency f, its harmonics are supported by these peaks (giving it a bright timbre). In contrast, there are also multiphonics.

C4 & A#5 D#4 & C#6 F#4, G#5, D6 & G6
D4 & B5 E4 & C5 G#4, C5, A#5 & E6
D#4, D#5 & B5 F4 & G#5  
D#4, F5, C#6 & E#6 F4 & A5  
In muliphonic fingerings, suppose two impedance peaks have approximately equal magnitudes and frequencies g and f. With suitable embouchure, it is often possible to sound the two notes with frequencies g and f simultaneously. The table above gives examples.


The way in which these measurements were made is given in this paper. The impedance measurements Z(f) are available here: Download file. The top row lists the fingering names, following the nomenclature used in the graphical displays linked above for notes and multiphonics. Column 1 is always frequency. Columns 2, 3 etc are the different notes or multiphonics. Z is complex and the spreadsheet has four sheets. In the downloading Excel file, sheets 1, 2, 3 and 4 give respectively |Z|, arg(Z), Re(Z) and Im(z). The graphs linked above include the compliance of a typical reed in parallel with the measurement (see the paper). Reed compliance is not included in the download files.

Explanatory notes

This site includes the results of Paul Dickens, a student completing his PhD in Music Acoustics, with contributions from Jane Cavanagh, Ryan France, John Tann and Joe Wolfe. Our collaborators include Mark O'Connor of The Woodwind Group and clarinettists Catherine McCorkill and Catherine Young. Thanks to Juliet Richters.

You can hear Catherine McCorkill play Stamitz.
Catherine Young plays Graphic Designs by Ronald Caravan.

The International Clarinet Association
A page of clarinet links.

Research and scholarship possibilities in music acoustics at UNSW

Our research work on clarinets is supported by the Australian Research Council and Yamaha Music Australia. Reeds were supplied by Legere (synthetic) and Vintage (cane).


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