Why I chose the clarinet as a musician with low vision

Why I chose the clarinet as a musician with low vision and how the clarinet can be a great choice for students.

I’ve been playing clarinet for over ten years now, and I often receive questions from people wanting to learn a new instrument as to why I chose the clarinet as a musician with low vision. While my low vision wasn’t a defining factor in why I chose to play the clarinet, it’s a great instrument for people with low vision to learn, and I’m not just saying that because it is my favorite instrument either. Here is why I chose the clarinet as a musician with low vision, and why it is such a great choice for starting out in music, in honor of Music in Our Schools Month.

It’s easy to find accessible music

Since the clarinet is a well-known instrument, it’s easy to find accessible sheet music in all sorts of different formats. My format of choice is large print or digital music, which I can create using Microsoft Publisher or Microsoft PowerPoint on my computer, though there are many different options for getting clarinet music in an accessible format, including:

Of course, accessible sheet music can be found or created for almost every instrument, so it doesn’t need to be a deciding factor in what instrument to choose, but knowing that it is widely available can be very helpful.

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I can switch to different instruments

The clarinet provides a great foundation for musicians who want to switch to other instruments at a later time. For example, I learned to play saxophone in middle school, and the transition from clarinet to saxophone felt very natural since I was already familiar with the clarinet. Many musicians have also found great success with switching from clarinet to bassoon, clarinet to oboe, and other wind instruments as well. While it isn’t a completely easy switch to make, those who are interested in playing multiple instruments can use the clarinet as a starting point.

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There are several types of clarinet

One of the main reasons why I love clarinet so much is because there are several different types of clarinet, almost all of which have the same fingering. I’ve been able to play six different types of clarinets in various ensembles over the years, all of which had different and unique sounds and interesting music to play. If I ever get bored of playing one type of clarinet, I can easily switch to another and play different music. As for which type is my favorite, I have trouble choosing between the b-flat soprano clarinet, the alto clarinet (which is fairly rare), and the bass clarinet, though my bass clarinet is currently my most-played instrument as I play it in my college pep band.

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Music can be repetitive, in a good way

With low vision, I tend to get eye fatigue fairly easily and sometimes go on auto-pilot when I am playing for a long period of time and can’t read my music fast enough. Luckily, clarinet music can be very repetitive in a good way, making it easier for me to memorize music so I can rely less on my eyes. It’s worth noting that not all clarinet music is like this, especially solo pieces, but in large ensemble settings, it is common for the music to have similar notes or repetition styles. This is one of the reasons why I play bass clarinet so often, as the music is easier for me to memorize while still being interesting to play.

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I sit near the front of the ensemble

One of the things I appreciated about playing clarinet when I was in middle and high school is that I always sat near the front of the ensemble, so that I could easily see the conductor/director and navigate the stage easily. While my vision has progressed to the point that I can’t see the conductor no matter where I sit now, this is helpful for students who are just starting out and need to sit towards the front without feeling like they are standing out. Flute is also a great instrument choice for sitting towards the front of the row, for students who aren’t interested in clarinet- one of my best friends plays this instrument and loves it!

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There are lots of keys

Another thing that I appreciate about the clarinet is that there are lots of keys on the instrument that I can easily feel and press down on. While I have many visually impaired friends who have been successful with brass instruments, I found it confusing to learn as it requires a lot of facial movements that can be difficult to see or capture on camera. With clarinet, students can easily place their fingers or press on keys and play a note, instead of worrying about if their mouth is positioned correctly.

For the most part, it is easy to carry

While it may have several different pieces prior to being assembled, the clarinet is easy to carry for the most part whether it is in a case or fully assembled. Many cases feature straps that can be attached to one or both shoulders, and the clarinet can be played with a neck strap as needed too. I can carry my clarinet/clarinet case in one hand and have my blindness cane in the other, and can safely get to wherever I need to go. This ins’t just the case for the soprano clarinet either- clarinet cases tend to be uniform in length and shape, though larger cases such as the ones for contra-alto and contrabass clarinets may be more difficult to walk with whether someone has a blindness cane or not. Students can also carry their clarinet case on a handcart or similar item if they do not want to hold onto it.

Final thoughts

While I recognize that not everyone will agree with me, the clarinet is truly one of the best instruments out there, and I thoroughly enjoy getting to play it in a variety of contexts, both inside and outside of school. I hope that this post on why I chose the clarinet is helpful for other budding musicians looking to try a new instrument!

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,

Updated August 2023

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