Learn something new every day
More Info... by email
The most notable advantages to using a plastic clarinet are that they are typically easier to play, more durable, and lightweight. They are most advantageous for children and other beginners who have not yet mastered the art of playing woodwind instruments. The quality of most plastic clarinets is not equal to that of their wooden counterparts, but some of the higher-end models have a pleasant sound which is ideal for school bands, marching bands, or for those who are playing merely as a hobby.
Perhaps the greatest advantage for those using a plastic clarinet is that they are usually easier to use than wooden ones. The keys are simpler to maneuver, making the instrument more easily mastered for those who have never played before. There is also less risk of the keys losing their function over time. With wooden instruments, the wood can expand and contract as the temperatures change, leading to warping around the keys and eventual damage. This doesn't occur with plastic, which keeps a consistent shape.
Use a plastic clarinet is also usually recommended for children because they are lightweight and easier to hold. This is important for band classes and similar settings, since students have an easier time learning to play instruments which are scaled down to their size as much as possible. Their lightweight qualities also make them easier to use when playing in marching band, since heavier instruments would become cumbersome to carry around.
A plastic clarinet is also generally more durable and longer lasting than a wooden one. Wood can become worn over time and it is prone to cracking or warping, which can effect the musical quality of the instrument. Plastic is better able to hold its shape and is less likely to break or chip if dropped or handled roughly, both of which are common with younger children who are first learning to play.
Plastic clarinets are also less expensive than wooden options. This is often because they are of lower playing quality, but this is a positive when buying for beginners and students or those who play as a hobby rather than professionally. The difference between a lower end plastic clarinet and a professional grade wooden one can be thousands of US Dollars (USD).
The main disadvantage to using a plastic clarinet is that they do not have as good a sound quality when compared to higher-end wooden clarinets. Those who play professionally use a professional-grade wooden clarinet due to their richer sound and better intonation. These qualities are not generally found in plastic clarinets.
I once had a plastic clarinet, but it wasn't a cheap student clarinet at all. I wanted to join the school band, and my dad found a classified ad about a clarinet for sale. We went to the owner's house and he brought out the clarinet and case. It looked like it was made that morning. Every key was shiny, and they were clearly made out of silver. I say it was a plastic clarinet, but it wasn't a cheap kind of plastic.
The seller told my dad that he really hadn't planned on selling that clarinet, but he joined a jazz combo that only allowed its members to use vintage instruments, like wooden clarinets. He wanted to sell the plastic one so he could have his wooden clarinet repaired. He sold it to us for a very reasonable price. I played it all the way through college.
I started out playing a wooden clarinet, and my band teacher told me I needed to spend a few minutes running my hands up and down the main body and bell to warm it up before practice. He said the wood needs to expand before it can produce a warm tone. I didn't mind doing it, but it did get old after a while.
The next year my dad bought me a plastic B flat clarinet, and I had a much easier time with that. It was more of a cheap student clarinet, but it worked fine for practice and an occasional school concert. I'd say if your child is not completely committed to the idea of playing a clarinet into adulthood, a plastic clarinet is a good option. Wooden clarinets are probably superior in terms of tone, but plastic clarinets are much more affordable for students.