Acoustics of the clarinet

Bb clarinet


Music Acoustics UNSW

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


a key depressed
a key not depressed
a hole covered
a hole uncovered
a part of the mechanism that is not normally touched
Details in fingering legend.

Acoustic schematic
a closed tone hole
an open tone hole

Non-specialist introduction to acoustic impedance
Non-specialist introduction to clarinet acoustics

Notes are the written pitch.
Frequencies are the sounding frequency, for Bb clarinet.
Unless otherwise stated, the impedance spectrum is for a Bb clarinet.

Impedance spectrum of a Bb clarinet measured using fingering for B6.

We can think of this as the fingering for F3 with three register holes: the speaker key and the third finger holes on each hand. It plays somewhere near the eleventh harmonic (compare with the eleventh harmonic in the sound spectrum of F3). The register holes diminish and shift the five lower peaks (which, for F3, correspond to the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th harmonics) so that the desired peak (the sixth) is the strongest. However, we are now so far above the cut-off frequency that such discussions are rather simplistic and approximate. With this and all high notes, there is always the danger of the reed operating at one of the lower peaks. A hard reed has a higher natural frequency and one can help it with the embouchure.


Sound spectrum of a Bb clarinet played using fingering for B6.
For more explanation, see Introduction to clarinet acoustics

Sound Clip

You can hear B6 played.

Fingering legend
How were these results obtained?

Contact: Joe Wolfe /
phone 61-2-9385-4954 (UT +10, +11 Oct-Mar)
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