Clarinets: First, you will need to decide if you want to learn on a plastic clarinet or a wooden clarinet. Plastic clarinets are generally used only by beginners and marching band students. Wooden clarinets produce a better quality of sound, but are also more expensive and should not be played outdoors or exposed to extremes in temperature or humidity.
Wooden: The student model wooden clarinet I recommend is the Buffet E-12F Clarinet, which can be purchased for about $1200 plus shipping from Washington Music. (You don't need to go there to buy -- all you have to do is call (301) 946-3448, ask for Lee, and request that their clarinet technician select the BEST Buffet E-12F B-flat clarinet for you. Then you just provide a credit card number, and they ship it UPS, so you don't pay any tax.) Buffet clarinets tend to hold their resale value very well and are fairly easy to sell as used instruments. (If you do buy a wooden clarinet, it is important to follow proper break-in procedures to prevent cracking - see my separate document entitled "Breaking in a New Clarinet" for details.)
Plastic: If you aren't prepared to spend $1200 on a wooden clarinet, you should consider buying or renting a plastic one. I recommend the Buffet Model B10 plastic clarinet, which can be purchased for about $450 plus shipping from Washington Music at (301) 946-3448 (ask for Lee, provide a credit card number, and they will ship it via UPS).
Renting: Washington Music offers used and new instruments for rental. Their rates are about $85 for the 9-month school-year for used (+ $25 security deposit), or $130 for new (+ $50 deposit).
Testing a New Clarinet: Always have a qualified professional test a new clarinet before you commit to buying it. There can be significant differences in sound and response among instruments that are the same brand and model. Washington Music allows exchanges for the same model within a few days of receipt. I am happy to test new instruments for my students, and let them know if the instrument has good tonal characteristics and well adjusted keys. If it doesn't, you should exchange it for another clarinet.
Instrument Repairs: It is important to take care of your instrument and keep it in good working condition. Be sure to swab it out often, especially when you finish playing it, and avoid exposing it to extreme differences in temperature. Do not leave your instrument in a hot or cold car. If you need repairs, do not attempt them yourself! I recommend the following Clarinet Technicians:
Gray's Brass & Woodwind Repair, 1210 East Kennedy Road, Sterling, VA 20164; phone: (703) 437-8726.
Kristin Bertrand, 3631 Singleton Terrace, Frederick, MD 27104; phone: (646) 670-6565.
Steve Ocone, 28G Bloomsbury Avenue, Catonsville, MD 21228; phone (410) 747-4957.
Suggested Accessories: The clarinet isn't the only thing you will need to start playing successfully. The following accessories are my personal recommendations, based on my own playing experience, input from other professional clarinetists and teachers, and feedback from my students. You can purchase them from retailers such as Weiner Music (800) 622-2675 www.weinermusic.com or Woodwind Brasswind (800) 348-5003 www.wwbw.com. Prices shown are approximate, and are subject to change. (It pays to check both websites when you are ready to order.) The item numbers correspond to those on wwbw.com.
Reeds: Always have at least three or four good working reeds with your clarinet. I recommend Vandoren "V21," "V12" or "56 Rue Lepic" or Rico "Grand Concert Select Evolution" B-flat clarinet reeds. Most beginning students use a 2.5 or 3.0 strength, and intermediate to advanced students use 3.5 or 4.0. These are available locally at Foxes Music, Melody Music, Music & Arts, or Reston Music. (You may want to call around for price comparisons.) Start out by buying three or four of each strength to see what works best for you, and then buy your correct strength in boxes of ten. You can order boxes of ten reeds online at discounted prices (approximately $29.00 per box) from the retailers listed above. Beginners can also use Mitchell Lurie reeds in a 2.5 or 3.0 strength, available at local retailers in boxes of five for about $10 per box.
Mouthpiece: Clark Fobes "Debut" B-flat clarinet mouthpiece (Item# 471450) ($31). (This is the most important piece of equipment you will buy, aside from the clarinet. Clarinets come with "stock" mouthpieces, but these are not as responsive as the "Debut", which is designed to facilitate response and tone quality with beginners and advanced beginners.) For intermediate and advanced students, I recommend the Clark Fobes Nova, Vandoren M13 Lyre, and Clark Fobes San Francisco CF+ mouthpieces.
Ligature: Ligatures are used to hold the reed onto the mouthpiece. Inverted ligatures fasten on the back of the mouthpiece, instead of having screws directly over the reed. These are superior to the plain metal ligatures that come standard with most new clarinets. For B-flat clarinets, I recommend the "Rovner Mark III" (#463402; approximately $23), "BG L6 Standard" (#465083; approx. $35) or "BG Super Revelation" (#465093 901; approx. $42). For advanced students, I recommend the "BG Tradition Gold" ligature (#465081 901 901; approx. $95) or the Peter Spriggs Floating Rail ligature (approx. $95).
Reed Case: Vandoren VRC810 Reed Case (Item#470554) ($28). (This case helps protect the reeds by minimizing chipping and warping. Warped or chipped reeds don't play very well! Don't buy the older style Vandoren reed cases which contain dessicants - these can actually cause the reeds to mildew!)
Neck Strap: BG Clarinet Support Strap BGC20E (Item#465099) ($25). (This helps distribute the weight of the clarinet by supporting it with your neck, instead of putting all of the weight on one thumb. It also helps posture and finger position.)
Thumb Rest Cushion: Ridenour Thumb Saddle (Item #472122; approx. $12) or BG Clarinet Thumb Cushion (Item# 465100) ($4). (These are much more comfortable than having a bare metal thumb rest dig into your thumb!)
Swab: Gem silk B-flat clarinet swab (Item#472268; approx. $10). (This is a high quality silk swab that is absorbent and gentle on the instrument. Do NOT buy a swab with a metal chain attached, or use a cotton or brush style swab! These can damage the inside of the instrument or get stuck.)
Cork Grease: Vandoren Cork Grease (Item#470608; approx. $3). The corks on the ends of the upper and lower joints and mouthpiece should be greased each time the clarinet is assembled. Otherwise, the corks will bind, dry out, crack, and eventually break off. If your clarinet doesn't go together easily, add more cork grease.
Metronome: Matrix MR500 Metronome (Item#210023; approx. $20). (This is an important tool to help you count rhythms correctly and maintain a steady tempo.)
Tuner: Korg CA-30 Tuner (Item#210527; approx. $20). (This will help you learn how to play in tune.)
Clarinet Stand: BG Clarinet Stand (Item#465101; approx. $12). (This handy compact folding clarinet stand helps keep your clarinet safe if you set it down during rests or breaks.)
Humistat Kit: Humistat Model 1 Humidifier with Hygrometer (approx. $18). (This is necessary during cold weather months or in dry locations, to make sure wooden clarinets do not crack. These are available from Humistat Corporation (1-914-714-2200) www.humistat.com; look for "combo pricing" on their website.)
Music Dictionary, such as Alfred's Pocket Dictionary of Music (Item #902769; approx. $8). (Use this book to look up terms, music notation and composers you will see written on your music, so you understand how to play pieces correctly.)
SmartMusic Annual Subscription: This software, which you can install on your home PC or laptop, is a wonderful practice tool with the ability to record and play back your performances. It includes piano accompaniments to many clarinet solos and has features for practicing method books, scales and excercises. The cost of an annual subscription is approximately $36, available from www.smartmusic.com. (Be sure to purchase the Instrumental Microphone, a one-time cost of approx. $20.)