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Thread: Soprano vs Clarinet - What's the Difference?

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    Distinguished SOTW Member Tom Goodrick's Avatar
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    Default Soprano vs Clarinet - What's the Difference?

    I have never played a clarinet. I have never been tempted to play one. The sound seems too thin and uninteresting. Almost all clarinets sound the same. Almost all sopranos sound different from each other. Why? What are the design features that make such a difference in the tone, the vibrato, the variation in tone depending on mood of the music between the two rather similar horns?
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    Distinguished SOTW Member Martinman's Avatar
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    There are huge differences in bore, material, etc.

    Here are some, other people can give you a better idea.

    1. Clarinets have a tiny bore compared to sop. I am pretty sure this is the main difference in sound - someone correct me if I am wrong.
    2. Clarinets are made mostly out of wood and plastic (older ones were metal), opposed to sopranos being made out of metal.
    3. I think the mouthpiece probably has something to do with it. Not sure exactly what though.

    Hope this helps
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    Also conical bore (sop sax) vs. cylindrical bore (clarinet).

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    Distinguished SOTW Member Carl H.'s Avatar
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    Most clarinet mouthpieces would be like small tip otto links - open with little baffle

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    They're very different. The clarinet is a cylindrical bore and overblows a 12th. The soprano sax is a conical bore and overblows an octave. Thus the upper register of the clarinet has different fingerings than the lower register...for example, second line G is all holes open, no keys used. G above the staff is register (not octave) key plus LH 1, 2 and 3 holes covered.
    The soprano Bb clarinet is keyed down to E below the treble staff, and altissimo to you-name-it, with G commonly encountered.

    IMHO, a well-played clarinet sounds better than a well-played soprano. The sound is not thin, but rich, woody (even if it's not a wooden clarinet) and full. Clarinet is a very versatile and agile instrument that is harder for a beginner than sax, largely because of the open tone holes. It requires a different embouchure than the saxophones.

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    Quote Originally Posted by retread
    IMHO, a well-played clarinet sounds better than a well-played soprano. The sound is not thin, but rich, woody (even if it's not a wooden clarinet) and full. Clarinet is a very versatile and agile instrument that is harder for a beginner than sax, largely because of the open tone holes. It requires a different embouchure than the saxophones.
    Listen to Michael Stephenson of the New Century Sax Quartet. He'll change your mind in an instant.
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    I'll call your Michael Stephenson and raise you Sabine Meyer and Eddie Daniels.

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    It's just a difference of opinion, gents. A well-played anything generally sounds beautiful. Just remember that clarinet pedagogy has had a few more centuries to settle down and eliminate almost all traces of uniqueness than that of the saxophone. Plus, don't forget that the clarinet has a larger range than the soprano. Minor but significant point.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brendan Muse
    clarinet pedagogy has had a few more centuries to settle down and eliminate almost all traces of uniqueness
    Unfortunately for the clarinet, that's an astute observation.

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    The main difference is that you blow down into a clarinet whereas you blow across into a saxophone. not to mention the fact you have to deal with open tone holes. The good thing about soprano though is that because its mouthpiece is smaller than a clarinet is that you will have the tighter embouchure that you need.

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    Growing up I never liked the sound of a clarinet particularly the upper register BUT that opinion was based on Middle School and High School band experiece. REAL clarinet players sound awesome and my only regret is that I didn't play clarinet in the school concert band and saxophone in the jazz ensemble. I love the soprano sax, particularly how personal the sound can become. Apple and Oranges - Love them both.

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    Quote Originally Posted by retread
    I'll call your Michael Stephenson and raise you Sabine Meyer and Eddie Daniels.
    Eddie Daniels is a great clarinet player...it's amazing the way that he has taken the clarinet and put it into a modern jazz idiom. I didn't think it was possible to hear a clarinet the same way that one hears a saxophone player like a David Sanborn or Eric Marienthal, but Daniels actually managed to do it. (All clarinet players besides Eddie Daniels sound like Benny Goodman or Woody Herman to me...)

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    Quote Originally Posted by J.Max
    Eddie Daniels is a great clarinet player...it's amazing the way that he has taken the clarinet and put it into a modern jazz idiom. I didn't think it was possible to hear a clarinet the same way that one hears a saxophone player like a David Sanborn or Eric Marienthal, but Daniels actually managed to do it. (All clarinet players besides Eddie Daniels sound like Benny Goodman or Woody Herman to me...)
    Another wonderful clarinet player is Ken Peplowski.
    I have a CD with Sabine Meyer and 4 other clarinetists, including Eddie Daniels. They are playing jazz-influenced classical clarinet music. The playing is exceptional. I haven't listened to it for a while, and I don't have it handy, but I think the title of the CD is "Blues for Sabine".

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    I for one don't think all clarinets sound the same. Oh, they do when I play them (Boehm vs. Albert vs. metal vs. wood, etc.). But when I hear others, I hear differences.

    One difference is the player's style, for sure. But there are also huge tonal differences brought about by the way the thing is played. As far as being thin and weak, listen to Sidney Bechet play clarinet - in my opinion he was the best of the jazzers, regardless of trad or modern; strong, full, and emotional.

    For me, one mark of a good clarinetist, at least in jazz, is whether or not I can identify him out of several. With Bechet I can, also with Johnny Dodds, Darnell Howard, Bob Helm (who played with Lu Watters and Turk Murphy for years in San Francisco), George Lewis, and a local L.A. based Albert-system player named Walter Sereth. All had/have distinct tone and style.

    The swingsters, while great technicians, kinda blend in my ears. I have a hard time differentiating Goodman from Shaw from Herman from Peplowski, etc. DAVE
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    Distinguished SOTW Member Tom Goodrick's Avatar
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    The only clarinet players I've heard much of are Benny Goodman and Acker Bilk. I like Acker Bilk. Goodman hits a lot notes and swings pretty well but his tone is what I think of as a thin and uninteresting tone. Bilk has a more interesting tone. I like his style.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Goodrick
    The only clarinet players I've heard much of are Benny Goodman and Acker Bilk. I like Acker Bilk. Goodman hits a lot notes and swings pretty well but his tone is what I think of as a thin and uninteresting tone. Bilk has a more interesting tone. I like his style.
    What about Artie Shaw?

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    Gotta love jazz clarinet!
    And there are some amazing classical players too.
    The reason that I see such a weak image from the clarinet stems back to highschool. I sat beside all the clarinets(probably around 18-20 of them) and they sound so weak and pinner. Most of them also had that nerd band look to them.

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    I have to say I admire guys that can even play half-a** jazz clarinet. Eddie Daniels and even Paquito amaze me. Clarinet is much more difficult than soprano, but the main differences are that the clarinet is in tune better with itself and there is actually a classical repetoire for the clarinet.

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    Tom: Acker Bilk has a nice sound, alright. He is a product of the British Trad style, discussed in another thread here on SOTW. Full, woody tone much like one expects out of the New Orleans clarinetists. Of course, British Trad is a direct take-off of New Orleans jazz.

    If you like Bilk, you'll love Bechet. Try the www.redhotjazz.com site and look for Bechet's EGYPTIAN FANTASY. DAVE
    Dave

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    Quote Originally Posted by whaler
    I have to say I admire guys that can even play half-a** jazz clarinet. Eddie Daniels and even Paquito amaze me. Clarinet is much more difficult than soprano, but the main differences are that the clarinet is in tune better with itself and there is actually a classical repetoire for the clarinet.

    Paquito is good, but he sounds like an alto sax player.

    I was an all-state bass clarinet player in high school, but I never really LOVED the instrument like I loved the saxophone... There are lots of good classical players to listen to, though. James Campbell, Richard Stoltzman, Anthony Gigliotti, Stanley Drucker, John Denman (highly underrated player. My wife studied with his wife, Paula Fan, at the University of Arizona. He passed away a few years ago though.), Mitchell Lurie, etc...

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