As part of a feature reflecting on instrument manufacturing for younger learners, Michael Pearce explored the teaching possibilities offered by current junior clarinets on the market. He discussed key considerations that the teacher and child face in selecting harmony instruments and featured the two John Packer C clarinets: the full system JP124 and simplified JP125...
JP124 C Clarinet - full keywork
"Although C clarinets have been around for centuries and are smaller and lighter than B flat clarinets, their cost and low availability often ruled them out for beginners. Step forward John Packer and the JP124 - an affordable C clarinet aimed not just at young starters, but also orchestral players, teachers and folk musicians. Made from resin, this instrument features a full body of keywork and uses a normal B flat mouthpiece, which allows students to get used to a B flat embouchure while enjoying smaller finger holes and spacings. Like all C clarinets, the JP124 is arguably less sonorous and rich than a B flat clarinet, but for young starters, the physical accessibility far outweighs any timbral subtleties.
"The JP124 is remarkably close in quality to a professional instrument for a fraction of the price. Even after learners move to a B flat, the instrument could be used in numerous contexts throughout a clarinettist's life, unlike other starter instruments which quickly become obsolete. And if clarinet playing doesn't work out, it should be quite easy to sell the instrument to a new starter or adult player looking for an affordable C clarinet."
JP125 C Clarinet - reduced keywork
"The JP125 is a reduced-keywork version of the JP124, neatly highlighting the pros and cons of the concept of reduced-keywork instruments in general. It has no 'unnecessary' keys at all - to lapse into clarinet specifics for a moment, low E and F sharp can only be played with the left little finger, while low F and G sharp can only be played with the right. Plus, in order to play low E or F sharp, the low F key must also be pressed down on the right hand. While the JP125 retains almost all the good qualities of the JP124, there's no doubt that this key mechanism makes some intervals quite tricky to play.
"In more general terms, some might say that learning two fingerings for the same note unnecessarily complicates things, and that students will pick up alternative fingerings quite easily later on. Others, meanwhile, might argue that the full range of fingerings should be available from the start in order to form good habits. There are significant issues, so parents looking to buy the JP125 should seek the opinion of their child's teacher."
The article also discussed the possibilities of starting on an Eb clarinet, which is another consideration with young children starting out. "John Packer offers an affordable E flat clarinet (JP223) and even a reduced keywork version (JP123), but even the smallest players can usually manage the weight and fingers stretches of a C clarinet. If not, than an E flat clarinet is perhaps your only option."