The clarinet belongs to the woodwind family of instruments and the most common clarinet used today is the B♭ clarinet (soprano clarinet),.
The clarinet is normally said to have four registers: the chalumeau (after the clarinet's ancestor), the throat, the clarinet and the extreme. The highest note that can normally be played on the clarinet is the C three octaves above middle C, but some virtuoso musicians can reach notes higher than this.
There are also two types of clarinet fingering systems in existence. By far the most common in use today is the Boehm System with the alternative being the "German" system. The latter is much less popular and is, in the main, restricted to German speaking countries. Both clarinet types look similar with the notable difference being the keys used by the little finger: the Boehm System has four levers wheras the German system has two half-round keys.
The standard clarinet consists of five parts:
— the single-reed mouthpiece
— the barrel or tuning socket
— the upper (or left-hand) joint
— the lower (or right-hand) joint
— the bell
A thin, flat piece of cane called a reed must be inserted in the mouthpiece before the clarinet can be played and notes are produced by pressing the metal keys which open and close air holes in the body of the clarinet.
The clarinet is commonly used in classical music and will also be found in military bands, marching bands, klezmer bands, jazz bands, folk music and many more besides.