The woodwind instruments in a band play a similar role as the brass: they power the melodies and beat, while adding a unique tone that leads to a complete sound. One of the most recognized woodwinds is the clarinet, featured in almost every marching band, including, of course, the Columbia University Marching Band.
The clarinet is a woodwind, as sound is produced not be vibrating one’s lips – as is the case with brass instruments – but with a reed attached to the mouthpiece that vibrates as the clarinetist blows into it. This production of sound, using air to produce vibrations through a reed and not the lips, makes woodwinds like the saxophone, flute, and clarinet different from the rest of the band.
The clarinet is known for its amazing range, as it’s able to play over four octives through standard fingering, with more notes possible for more serious players.
Most professional players use clarinets that are made of wood, but many clarinetists who are just starting use more inexpensive, plastic clarinets. The clarinet consists of five pieces that players assemble before playing. The reed is attached to the top piece – the mouthpiece – with a metal ligature that holds the reed over the hole in the mouthpiece so it can vibrate effectively.
The most common clarinet is the b-flat clarinet, which Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Mate Bekavac (see video, above) played, but there are many other kinds of clarinets, including the bass clarinet (which has a deeper, more mellow sound) and the e-flat clarinet (which has a higher, brighter sound).
At most scramble marching band performances you should usually see at least three or four b-flat clarinets (like in the picture above) driving the melody. Although this is obviously a function of the overall size of the band.