When is the Best Time to Step Up?  An Intermediate Clarinet Buying Guide

By Amy Chambers, guest author 



A question that I am asked often by parents, band directors, and my clarinet students,  is when is the best time to “step up” to an intermediate clarinet?  

There is no “one size fits all” answer for everyone, but these guidelines will help you decide. 

Student-level clarinets are designed to be easier to blow, and the plastic bodies make them lighter and easier to hold than wooden “step-up”  clarinets. A student clarinet made for a beginner is often a less expensive option for a  young player who might not be sure about their long-term commitment. Intermediate and performance-level clarinets are made of wood and generally play with a nicer sound than student clarinets. 

A quick note to parents: There is nothing wrong with starting a careful student on a nice wooden clarinet. I started my daughter on a Buffet R13 because I was fortunate enough to have a couple of them.  

So, when is the best time to “step up” to an intermediate clarinet? Read on for a few considerations. 

Has the student learned the basics? 

When a young musician has learned the basics on their student instrument, such as correct embouchure, playing position, and correct fingerings, they are ready to “step up” to a wooden intermediate clarinet.  

Specifically, as a young clarinetist begins to learn and play higher notes, including the  E’s, F’s, and G’s at the top of the staff and beyond, a step-up instrument will allow them to sound better than they would with a student model.  

Here’s a side note: Even before I recommend stepping up to a new instrument, I usually suggest a mouthpiece upgrade first. The Vandoren 5RV Lyre and Vandoren B5 are two of my top choices for my students. 

Even with an intermediate or performance level instrument, I can’t promise your child  will play all the right notes all the time, but their low notes will sound more full and rich 

When is the Best Time to Step Up?  An Intermediate Clarinet Buying Guide 

and their high notes will sound less shrill and be easier to play. What that means for your students is they will simply sound better.  

Does your child take care of their instrument?  

All clarinets, wooden or plastic, need to be swabbed out daily after practicing and stored indoors, in the case. If your child values their student clarinet and takes good care of it, they are probably ready for a step-up instrument. 

Are you able to make the investment?  

Finally, here is a practical consideration for parents. A quality instrument is an important part of any musician’s success. If your child has already demonstrated the commitment to playing clarinet and can make the investment, then it’s a good time to upgrade their instrument to a wooden clarinet.  

I hope I’ve answered all your questions about when is the best time to “step up” to your next clarinet. Best wishes on your musical journey! 

Happy Clarineting! 

Amy Chambers 

About the author:

Amy is a clarinet instructor in the Memphis area and across the country. She brings over 25 years of experience in music education to her students and consulting clients.  In her free time, she loves playing bass clarinet in local ensembles and eating hot sauce, but not at the same time. You can find her at www.clarinetgeek.com and on Instagram @themusicchambers.