ET's Clarinet Studio
The Clarinetist's Case: The Bare Necessities
by Eric Tishkoff



There are certain things that every clarinet player must have beyond the basic instrument, reed, and case. The list includes items for cleaning and maintaining the instrument, protecting the reeds, practicing, and writing. These things are as basic to playing and studying as is the reed and instrument itself. They are:

  • swab
  • cork grease
  • reed holder
  • mouthpiece protector
  • pencil
  • music stand


A person's breath contains a lot of moisture and is generally warmer than the air where we play. This causes condensation on the inside of the clarinet during playing. Condensation must be removed from the instrument regardless of whether the clarinet is made from wood, plastic, or metal. Failure to do so is not only unhygienic, but can also lead to damaged pads or, in the case of a wooden instrument, serious deformation of the bore.

The most common method for removing condensation is to use a swab. Swabs come in various shapes, sizes, materials, and colors. The basic configuration is a rectangular piece of material that is drawn through the clarinet by a weighted string or chain. I prefer a smallish-sized cotton swab with a cloth string and fabric-enclosed weight.

Cork Grease

Cork is used at the joints of a clarinet to help make a snug, air-tight seal. Corks should fit tightly. However, tight corks often make assembly and disassembly difficult. Cork grease helps by lubricating the joint between cork and wood. A well lubricated joint requires much less strength to put together or detach, which can be of particular concern to younger students.

Cork grease is commonly packaged in two different formats. Both greatly resemble lip balm. However, do not confuse the two; they are not interchangeable! I like the type that comes in a tube. Twist the bottom of the tube to slightly extend the grease stick, touch a small amount to the cork, then spread evenly around the cork with your fingers.

Reed Holders

Reeds are usually sold in individual plastic containers. These containers are intended to protect the reed while it is stored for transport. They are not designed to provide a good surface for a wet reed to dry upon. For that, you'll need an actual reed holder.

Reed holders come in a variety of sizes and styles. They range from functional plastic holders to elegant stained wood, glass, and fabric affairs. The inexpensive plastic ones work quite well. Since you should always keep four working reeds in the case, get a reed holder (or holders) that accommodate at least four reeds.

Mouthpiece Protector

This is a simple item that usually comes with a new clarinet. They are made of plastic or metal, and are an absolute must. The protector, also called a cap, should always be placed on the mouthpiece when the clarinet is not being played. Also use it anytime you plan to walk with your clarinet assembled, put the instrument down, or during long rests. While a mouthpiece cap is very inexpensive it can save you from breaking a rather expensive (and possibly dear) mouthpiece.


Always keep a sharpened, black, graphite pencil with an eraser in your clarinet case. It will get used in most rehearsals and also during your private practicing. There is a long tradition of never using a pen or other permanent marker to write on printed music. Keep your notations clean, consistent, and readable by others.

Music Stand

Most clarinet students use music right from the beginning of their clarinet studies. Resting the music on a bed, propping it up with books or the clarinet case, or practicing clarinet at a piano are not conducive to good playing habits. Usually the student's posture suffers greatly, and from this all sorts of corollary damage may result, such as poor breathing technique or bad hand and arm position.

As soon as a student has printed music to play from, the student should have a music stand to hold the music. Wire stands are among the most widely used. They are compact and easily portable, however, they are not the most stable. Another popular stand is the Manhasset-type. These cost more, but are more stable than a wire stand and easy to adjust.


These six items are, in my opinion, the absolute necessities that should be considered as vital a part of the clarinetist's case as the instrument itself. I purposely have kept the list to its barest minimum. Some teachers might add a toothbrush and a jeweler's screwdriver. If there is room in the case, then by all means, pack them, too.

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Copyright © 2001, Eric Tishkoff. All rights reserved. This article may not be used commercially without the express written consent of the author.