The clarinet, as an instrument, is full of body. It has such a resonant, warm, rich, full, beautiful tone. I have great reverence for the instrument because of what it can deliver in just about any musical context.
Anyone can pick up and learn to play the clarinet. But only a few will ever master it.
Still, as they say, every journey begins with the first step. Which might be a statement too obvious to utter, but it is truth, nonetheless. You’ve got to start somewhere.
Here we will explore some easy songs for you to pick up as a beginner clarinetist. Work on these, and they will serve as a springboard onto more interesting, more challenging tunes. But don’t despise humble beginnings, because setting a solid foundation on your instrument is critical to your long-term success!
“When The Saints Go Marching In” by Unknown
I assume you aren’t a stranger to “When The Saints Go Marching In” (origins not fully known), and if you are, you may be in for a bit of a surprise, as this melody is deeply embedded in culture.
This, without a doubt, is a great place for beginners to start. It is an easy song for those starting out on the clarinet to tackle. So, don’t hesitate in taking this on.
Perhaps the one challenging aspect of “When The Saints Go Marching In” is its overall length. But after a while, you do tend to build up some stamina for longer songs. So, give this song a try at your earliest convenience (if not as your first song), and use the video below as your guide.
“Canon In D” by Johann Pachelbel
Let’s face it. Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon In D” isn’t just a great song for beginner clarinetists to learn. It’s a practical essential for every musician, given that it’s the underpinning of most pop songs heard today. Though it has been analyzed inside and out, there’s no musician that doesn’t benefit from doing their own study. There are concepts too numerable to uncover.
The song starts off with a series of quarter notes. Simple. Then it shifts to eighth notes and gets a little harder. And then it adds faster notes, 16th, 32nd, and so on. That’s where, admittedly, it can get tougher to keep up on your instrument as a beginner.
As with anything, though, you can learn it one note at a time. If in doubt, slow it down. Repetition is the only way to gain muscle memory, and muscle memory is a key part of playing smoothly and being able to focus on the performance rather than the notes being played. Professionals generally work on songs to the point of their muscle memories completely taking over, and that’s what makes it look “effortless.”
Overall, it’s a beautiful tune if a little overplayed, but again, it’s an essential for increasing your musical vocabulary, so don’t skip it.
“Memories” by Maroon 5
Now for a pop tune. What’s funny about Maroon 5’s “Memories” is that it underscores everything I just said about Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.” You can hear, from the opening notes, that “Memories” is practically the same song. See how Pachelbel set the foundation for modern pop music?
It's not just Maroon 5, either. You can hear it in Vitamin C’s “Graduation (Friends Forever),” Scatman John’s “Scatman’s World,” Green Day’s “Basket Case,” and countless other hits. Why mess with a tried and tested formula?
(Well, I can think of one reason – because it’s overplayed! But if you can approach an old idea in a fresh way, it can sound new.)
Maybe Maroon 5 “stole,” but knowing where to “steal” from is half the battle of an artist looking for inspiration. Either way, if you’re starting to feel confident with Pachelbel’s “Canon in D,” and you’re ready to explore variations on it, you’ll enjoy “Memories,” given that it’s practically an extension of it.
“I Don’t Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker)” by ZAYN & Taylor Swift
Looking for more pop songs to learn on the clarinet? No problem. There are plenty worth exploring.
And given that ZAYN and Taylor Swift’s “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker)” is basically a standard four-chord wonder (meaning it’s usually melodically straightforward too), it’s not a bad song to attempt.
What makes it a little challenging, I suppose, is the sheer number of melody notes, their timing, as well as the overall length of the song. You can do this one note at a time, of that I have no doubt. But I would encourage you to take your time with this song or it could show up as a little overwhelming.
If it just so happens that it is your favorite song, though, you’ll probably devour it in no time. That’s the benefit of finding something you love working on.
“The House Of The Rising Sun” by Unknown
Obviously, The Animals’ version of “The House Of The Rising Sun” is the most popular recording available. But as with many folk songs, it’s not entirely clear who it was authored by. Still, The Animals version, as far as I’m concerned, is quite expertly performed and quite evocative too.
For the clarinetist, whose focus will be on the melody, this is not a bad selection at all. There aren’t too many notes to play, and the phrasing isn’t too difficult either (although there are always sections that are harder than others – take those at a moderate pace).
It can never hurt to add classic folk songs to your repertoire, right? And this is a great song.
“Ode To Joy” by Ludwig van Beethoven
When looking at songs to learn as a beginner clarinet player, it can’t hurt to pull examples from the classical world too. After all, the composers of the last millennia are still revered the world over, and Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” is an undeniable part of the cultural zeitgeist.
This tribute to pleasure and happiness also features a simple, straightforward melody, mostly made up of equal length quarter notes. The bars containing the eighth notes are perhaps the trickiest part but can be mastered with perseverance.
The video below is a decent guide to the song, but it is funny how it tries to be a little too hip in its approach, with an electronic backing track. If nothing else, though, it should serve as a good laugh.
“La Cucaracha” by Unknown
Another familiar melody, “La Cucaracha” tells the story of a cockroach who is unable to walk (did you know?). If you don’t immediately recognize the verse, you will certainly recognize the more familiar chorus.
Obviously, there are shorter songs or riffs you can learn to play. But “La Cucaracha” isn’t bad, as it only features 18 bars of music, and it’s not that hard to play. It might not be the ideal first song, but after you’ve gained some practice and experience with another song or two, I would encourage you to give this one a go too.
“Amazing Grace” by John Newton
As with classical music, Christian hymns are another category just waiting to be tapped by the beginner clarinetist, especially when the song is as beautiful, widely known, and as universally accepted as “Amazing Grace.” And, no doubt, you’ve heard countless expertly performed renditions that left an impression on you. For me, virtuoso bassist Victor Wooten’s version comes to mind.
On the clarinet, the song is quite straightforward. It is usually played at a slow tempo, and that makes it easy to keep up with the changes. Most of the notes are quarter and half notes, and that also keeps the difficulty level low.
The version shown in the video has some fancy flourish (it is possible to find even easier versions to play). But it certainly can’t hurt to learn it this way, given that it is quite authentic. Take it slow, and you should be fine.
It's a little long, sure, but with some tenacity, I know you can pull it off. I believe in you.
“Swan Lake” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
I probably don’t need to say much about “Swan Lake” being one of the most popular ballet compositions ever to be written. Listen to it. You will recognize it.
It just so happens that, on the clarinet, it isn’t too hard to play. The melody contains some accidentals, so that’s always something to look out for, but this is still very doable for a beginner. Plus, it’s a lot of fun. The song goes through a lot of dramatic changes, and as you’re playing to a backing track, you really get the sense that you’re a part of something epic.
The song is a bit of a project, especially with its length, but rest assured it is a rewarding song to learn, and that makes it worthwhile.
“Für Elise” by Ludwig van Beethoven
Beethoven’s “Für Elise” is another one of those songs that speaks to his very essence as a composer. It’s a beautiful, haunting piece you can easily imagine people dancing to.
The song is full of accidentals. It’s a big part of what makes it. It’s also in a strange time signature (3/8). But given that you’ve probably heard this song countless times, its rhythm probably isn’t going to present the greatest challenge.
What I will say is that you’ll probably want to slow this song way down if you’re intent on learning it now. It features some rather fast notes later in the composition, and even if not for that, you’ve got a ton of notes to play. So, start moderately and work on the song in chunks. Don’t try to learn it all at once. You’ll experience more success that way.
“My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion
Not everyone’s a big fan of Canadian singer Celine Dion. She is kind of an acquired taste (at least us Canadians think so). But as one of the most iconic numbers from the 1997 film Titanic, plenty of musicians will end up wanting to learn (or at least attempt to learn) “My Heart Will Go On” sooner or later.
With its moderate tempo, learning the melody from “My Heart Will Go On” should not prove the greatest undertaking. That said, there are a lot of notes to play. And that means it’s going to take some serious endurance to get through the whole piece. So, unless you’re a big fan of the song, don’t make this the first song you work on. Start elsewhere, then return to Dion’s late 90s smash hit.
But in terms of difficulty, it isn’t too bad, so be sure to give it a try.
“All Of Me” by John Legend
I sort of get John Legend’s appeal. I’m obviously not in his primary demographic, and I feel like his music is a little overdramatic and maybe even a little overcooked. That said, I’m not going to look at anybody as though they’ve crossed the line of bad taste if they happen to enjoy Mr. made-up surname from time to time.
Kidding aside, “All Of Me” is another four-chord wonder, and the melody is mostly a combination of quarter notes and eighth notes (though, of course, there are half notes and dotted notes too). Overall, it’s not the easiest song to play on the clarinet, but easy enough that, if you can play other songs on this list, you should be able to play this one too.
Have fun with this tune (and sorry if you enjoy it more than I do)!
“You’ve Got A Friend In Me” by Randy Newman
Sometimes overlooked. Sometimes underappreciated. Randy Newman is quite simply an amazing songwriter, and his music reflects his considerable experience and skill. “You’ve Got A Friend In Me,” most known for its inclusion in the 1995 family comedy Toy Story, is no exception.
Is it the easiest song to play on the clarinet? Perhaps not. The melody features a lot of accidentals, and that can be kind of mindboggling. But if you’re starting to feel comfortable with all the other songs on this list, and are looking for a challenge, this might be a good piece to tackle. Plus, this melody sounds great on the clarinet.
But don’t forget. Take this at your own pace. Don’t rush anything. You can do it if you take it one note at a time. Start slow, and build up from there.
Easy Clarinet Songs For Beginners, Final Thoughts
As with all woodwind instruments, breathwork is at the heart of a competent clarinet performance. That is one of the reasons the clarinet can present a major challenge. This is likely what you will be working on the hardest early on (your breath), though I’m not suggesting that the fingering aspect of the instrument is a walk in the park.
And this means you need to work on the basics. There’s just no way around it. Building a solid foundation should be your top priority before worrying about attempting increasingly harder songs.
Once you get the fundamentals, though, your journey certainly gets easier, and if you consistently engage in practice, you will fast reach the point where music becomes more enjoyable.
I wish you all the best on your learning journey!