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Top-Grade Zweiss Boehme Bb Clarinet with Designer Hardcase. Silvered Keys. Ebonite.
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The reed is attached to the mouthpiece by the ligature, and the top half-inch or so of this assembly is held in the player’s mouth. In the past clarinetists used to wrap a string around the mouthpiece and reed instead of using a ligature. The formation of the mouth around the mouthpiece and reed is called the embouchure.
The reed is on the underside of the mouthpiece, pressing against the player's lower lip, while the top teeth normally contact the top of the mouthpiece (some players roll the upper lip under the top teeth to form what is called a ‘double-lip’ embouchure). Adjustments in the strength and shape of the embouchure change the tone and intonation (tuning). It is not uncommon for clarinetists to employ methods to relieve the pressure on the upper teeth and inner lower lip by attaching pads to the top of the mouthpiece or putting (temporary) padding on the front lower teeth, commonly from folded paper.
Next is the short barrel; this part of the instrument may be extended to fine-tune the clarinet. As the pitch of the clarinet is fairly temperature-sensitive, some instruments have interchangeable barrels whose lengths vary slightly. Additional compensation for pitch variation and tuning can be made by pulling out the barrel and thus increasing the instrument's length, particularly common in group playing in which clarinets are tuned to other instruments (such as in an orchestra or concert band). Some performers use a plastic barrel with a thumbwheel that adjusts the barrel length. On basset horns and lower clarinets, the barrel is normally replaced by a curved metal neck.
The main body of most clarinets is divided into the upper joint, the holes and most keys of which are operated by the left hand, and the lower joint with holes and most keys operated by the right hand. Some clarinets have a single joint: on some basset horns and larger clarinets the two joints are held together with a screw clamp and are usually not disassembled for storage. The left thumb operates both a tone hole and the register key. On some models of clarinet, such as many Albert system clarinets and increasingly some higher-end Boehm system clarinets, the register key is a 'wraparound' key, with the key on the back of the clarinet and the pad on the front. Advocates of the wraparound register key say it improves sound, and it is harder for moisture to accumulate in the tube beneath the pad. Nevertheless, there is a consensus among repair techs that this type of register key is harder to keep in adjustment, i.e., it is hard to have enough spring pressure to close the hole securely.
The body of a modern soprano clarinet is equipped with numerous tone holes of which seven (six front, one back) are covered with the fingertips, and the rest are opened or closed using a set of keys. These tone holes let the player produce every note of the chromatic scale. On alto and larger clarinets, and a few soprano clarinets, key-covered holes replace some or all finger holes. The most common system of keys was named the Boehm system by its designer Hyacinthe Klosé in honour of flute designer Theobald Boehm, but it is not the same as the Boehm System used on flutes. The other main system of keys is called the Oehler system and is used mostly in Germany and Austria (see History). The related Albert system is used by some jazz, klezmer, and eastern European folk musicians. The Albert and Oehler systems are both based on the early Mueller system.
The cluster of keys at the bottom of the upper joint (protruding slightly beyond the cork of the joint) are known as the trill keys and are operated by the right hand. These give the player alternative fingerings that make it easy to play ornaments and trills. The entire weight of the smaller clarinets is supported by the right thumb behind the lower joint on what is called the thumb-rest. Basset horns and larger clarinets are supported with a neck strap or a floor peg.
Finally, the flared end is known as the bell. Contrary to popular belief, the bell does not amplify the sound; rather, it improves the uniformity of the instrument's tone for the lowest notes in each register. For the other notes the sound is produced almost entirely at the tone holes and the bell is irrelevant. On basset horns and larger clarinets, the bell curves up and forward and is usually made of metal.
Theobald Boehm did not directly invent the key system of the clarinet. Boehm was a flautist who created the key system that is now used for the transverse flute. Klosé and Buffet applied Boehm's system to the clarinet. Although the credit goes to those people, Boehm's name was given to that key system.
The current Boehm key system consists of generally 6 rings, on the thumb, 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th holes, a register key just above the thumb hole, easily accessible with the thumb. Above the 1st hole, there is a key that lifts two covers creating the note A in the throat register (high part of low register) of the clarinet. A key at the side of the instrument at the same height as the A key lifts only one of the two covers, producing G♯ a semitone lower. The A key can be used in conjunction solely with the register key to produce A♯/B♭.
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