Clarinet Left Hand Position

On the clarinet, left hand position is more complicated than right hand position for many people. Here are some tips to un-complicate it.

1. As with the right hand, let's set the left thumb. It should point to the register key, pointing to the ball at the top of the rod to the right.

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WRONG THUMB POSITION #1: It's tempting to line your thumb up with the register key, but this is inefficient and can throw off the position of the fingers.
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WRONG THUMB POSITION #2: For the same reasons as the vertical thumb, placing your thumb horizontally is not a good option, either.

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WRONG THUMB POSITION #3: The thumb should never rest on the wood of the clarinet under the register key when you're not using it. Only the right thumb supports the weight of the clarinet. Instead, hover it over the tone hole when you're waiting to use it.

CORRECT LEFT THUMB POSITION: Thumb pointing diagonally, ready to make contact with the tip of the register key.

2. The next step is to set the index finger.

The left index finger not only works the first tone hole of the upper joint, but the A and A-flat/G# keys. The side of your index finger rests on these keys, with the side of the knuckle closest to the fingernail resting on the A key and the side of the middle knuckle resting on the A-flat key.

As with the other fingers, these fingers stay curved at all times. This is especially important when you play A-flat, as the tendency will be to point your index finger out when it isn't on the A key.

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View of left index finger on A and A-flat keys.

3. Set the other fingers. Contrary to right hand position, the fingers will not be perpendicular to the clarinet. Rather, with a slight lift in your wrist, your fingers should slant downward.

As with right hand position, the fleshy pads of the fingers will come in contact with the tone holes, not the very tips.

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Left hand position with slight downward slant

As always, maintain the natural curvature of your fingers. Since I have small hands, it can be difficult for me to set my ring and pinky fingers without straightening them. What has helped me in my left hand has been bringing my left palm a little closer to the clarinet so I don't have to reach as far.

Remember to avoid collapsing your joints inward!

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Left hand position with straight/collapsed fingers

A good home position for your pinky is the E/B key. It will remind you to keep the pinky curved and this is frequently used when going over the break.

Return to general clarinet hand position guidelines

Clarinet right hand position tips