Mother of an 8 yr old clarinetist–needs advice!

My 8 yr old daughter goes to an elementary school with a heavily emphasized music program (much stronger in strings than in woodwind instruments, however). She selected the clarinet to play. She played the B flat clarinet for about 4 months. Then one day, she came home excitedly with an E flat alto clarinet. The band director had asked for volunteers and she was the only one who raised her hand. She transitioned fairly well (despite the fact that the instrument was almost as tall as her). I LOVE the sound of the E flat alto, and my daughter enjoys being the only child that gets to play it.

A few things bothered me, though. I was very wary of picking up another instrument when she had not yet mastered the B flat. I also became frustrated over the lack of music for the instrument. There are few band pieces written for E flat alto, so she ended up sitting next to the tuba section and was forced to play music written for tubas.

I was instructed by the band teacher to have her “keep up both clarinets over the summer” but to “focus on the B flat.”

I finally located a clarinet teacher, who happens to be one of the lead clarinet players for our city’s orchestra (we live in a very large city). He was shocked to hear that my daughter had been given an E flat alto at such a young age. After seeing her play over time, he feels that she is having confusion between the two instruments. Because she has played the E flat alto more recently, when she plays the B flat, she takes in too much mouthpiece and holds the instrument as if it were an E flat. He feels that the 2 instruments are VERY different. He thinks she should focus on the B flat for a few years and THEN try the E flat. He says that once a player learns the B flat well, he or she can easily learn any of the other clarinets.

I know NOTHING about woodwinds (I played a brass for a year and play piano). I tend to believe what her teacher is saying, due to his long experience with the clarinet. After much thought (and talking with my daughter), I decided to return the E flat alto today. I love the sound and my daughter loves playing it, but I don’t want her stuck playing tuba parts the rest of her band career. I want to start out right–positioning, tonguing, where the mouthpiece is placed in the mouth are all so new to her now. I want her to get a firm foundation so she doesn’t have to correct huge mistakes later on.

The band director is a sax player. He just doesn’t have the time to devote to every student (and I am not sure he cares how she plays the instrument–just if she is able to play the songs). When I gave him the E flat back and explained, he just told my daughter that they would give the instrument to someone else (which of course made my daughter cry because she wants to be the one that plays the “special” instrument).

Am I making the right choice or am I misinformed? How “long” should a clarinetist work on the B flat before he/she is able to transition to another clarinet? I really think she has potential, so I want to do what will make her the best clarinetist in the end.

A Clarinetist’s Mom
——————————————————————–To The mother of the clarinet-playing daughter:

Well, I think that the band director is simply trying to retain a player for the alto clarinet, an instrument very seldom used and without interesting parts and while “different looking” is really not a great musical contributor to the repertoire of the band.
You have been very astute with your daughter and in taking the advice of the professional player.
The only problem are the tears of disappointment that you say your daughter experienced in having the alto clarinet taken away.
Everybody is correct and nobody knows how long the child will wish to play any of these instruments.
The child cries……and so?

Beware of Band Directors who ask for volunteers

Perhaps she should be told the advantages of staying with the Bb clarnet.
Best of regards and say hello to your daughter.
Sherman Friedland


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