Clarinet for Beginners: the First 5 Notes

Updated: Dec 10, 2021

I've search the world over (i.e. the world wide web) for the most popular first 5 notes on the clarinet and have concluded that G, F, E, D, C are the most popular. The reason is simple, these are the notes that start with zero fingers (open G) and move downward to 4 fingers (low C).

A treble staff with the notes C, D, E, F and G with clarinet fingerings beneath them.
Clarinet First 5 Notes

This makes sense but there is one caveat to this rule of the first 5 notes and this is that many actually start on E which has the left thumb and left index finger. Can you imagine why they might start on E rather than G? If you think "because the first line of the staff is E", you have good rationale, but that is not it. The apparent reason many teachers start their first 5 notes on E is because it allows the student to hold the clarinet steady in the beginning. While this is a noble cause, and I can certainly understand their motivation, it ends up being misguided thinking—the last thing we want students to do is think of using their fingers to hold onto the clarinet! The only finger responsible for holding the clarinet in place is the right-hand thumb.

Your fingers, assuming you are a clarinet player, are intended to press keys and cover holes. Now, given there will be times when you might feel compelled to move around while you are playing and you might need to hold the clarinet, but this is really an argument against dancing around as you play. (If you notice, whenever these "dancing players" have to play something with lots of notes they reduce their dancing to a wiggle or two.)

Another advantage to these first 5 notes is that they end up using the least amount of tube possible. This makes the sounding of the first notes as easy as possible as there is less tube to blow through and less mechanism to control.

Lastly, these first 5 notes lie beautifully on the scale covering the tonic (first note of the scale) through the dominant (fifth note of a scale) of the C Major scale. This gives us a basic tool of melodic composition giving the melody a place to move and come back home to—the melody just feels right. Let us look at a couple examples:

The nursery tune Mary Had a Little Lamb in music notation using the clarinetist's first five notes.
Mary Had A Little Lamb

Looking at this melody, one could say that we start it in the middle of our journey. By the time we get to the G (the dominant) in the fourth measure, we have journied far enough. The next three measures begin the familiar path home and we arrive in the last measure on C (the tonic).

This is Jingle Bells written out in music notation using the clarinetist's first five notes learned.
What Song is This?

What popular Christmas song is this? If you said "Jingle Bells", you are right. Who knew such a beloved song was created from the first 5 notes a clarinetist learns. I wonder if the composer was a clarinetist!?

Whoever decided that C, D, E, F, and G would be the first 5 notes we learn on clarinet should be given a medal. They nailed it, and so will you if you start with these notes as well. Can you think of other songs that use these beginner notes?

#firstnotes #beginnerclarinet #clarinetfirst5

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