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The invention of the clarinet dates back to the 1700’s to a man named Johan Christoph Denner. Before his invention, single reeds such as the clarinet has to produce its sound, were only used in organs and folk instruments. The clarinet’s predecessor was the chalumeau, however this was not a very flexible instrument with only 1.5 octaves.

Around the turn of the 18th century, Deener modified the chalumeau by converting one of its keys into a register key to produce the first clarinet. This instrument played well in the middle register with a loud, shrill sound, so it was given the name clarinetto meaning "little trumpet" (from clarino + -etto). Early clarinets did not play well in the lower register, so chalumeaux continued to be made to play the low notes.

As clarinets improved, the chalumeau fell into disuse and these notes became known as the chalumeau register. The original Denner clarinets had two keys, and could play a chromatic scale, but various makers added more keys to get improved tuning, easier fingerings, and a slightly larger range. The classical clarinet of Mozart's day typically had eight finger holes and five keys.

Clarinets were soon accepted into orchestras. Later models had a mellower tone than the originals. Mozart (d. 1791) liked the sound of the clarinet (he considered its tone the closest in quality to the human voice) and wrote numerous pieces for the instrument, and by the time of Beethoven (c. 1800–1820), the clarinet was a standard fixture in the orchestra.

The next major development in the history of clarinet was the invention of the modern pad. Early clarinets covered the tone holes with felt pads. Because these leaked air, the pads had to be kept to a minimum, so the clarinet was severely restricted in what notes could be played with good tone. In 1812, Iwan Müller, a Russian-born clarinetist and inventor, developed a new type of pad that was covered in leather or fish bladder. This was completely airtight, so the number of keys could be increased enormously. He designed a new type of clarinet with seven finger holes and thirteen keys. This allowed the clarinet to play in any key with near-equal ease. Over the course of the 19th century, many enhancements were made to Mueller's clarinet, such as the Albert system and the Baermann system, all keeping the same basic design.

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