Starting a new musical instrument is always challenging, but clarinet has its own wrinkles that need to be addressed for young students and unwitting parents. My cousin Shylo in WA just wrote asking for advice for her son, who is 11 and just starting the clarinet. Here is my response:
1) Get a good mouthpiece, not plastic. It makes a huge difference. A Portnoy bp02 is a good place to start, and they turn up used on eBay for $30-50.
2) Get a good ligature (thing that holds the reed on). A Rovner is about $20 on Amazon and allows the reed to vibrate freely and evenly (cheap metal ligs can pinch) and sounds better.
3) Buy a couple Fibracell reeds. They are a synthetic material that looks like a regular reed, but don't have to be soaked before each use, and don't squeak, split, chip, warp, are easier to get a good sound out of, and last for months. They cost about $13 each, but 2 or 3 would probably last him a year if he's careful with them. 2.5 would be a good strength for a beginner. If he decides to stick with clarinet, he can move to natural reeds in a couple years: they have a slightly better tone but are fragile, require adjusting and wetting, have a shorter life and you won't get 10 good ones in a box of 10!
4) Make sure that, even if he's playing an inexpensive student horn (plastic) that its a decent brand, like Yamaha, Bundy, Vito or Buffet, (not some Chinese POS) and that all the pads seal and it is properly adjusted. A horn that has even a small leak can be a nightmare to play well, play in tune, etc. and is really frustrating for a child who hasn't developed skills for delayed gratification.
5) Buy or download a clarinet fingering chart, to figure out what all those buttons do! Clarinets are complicated and there is often more than 1 way to play the same note.
6) It would be a good idea to get a beginner lesson or 2 for both of you from a local teacher, just to get you off on the right foot. Once someone shows you the right way, you'll get it. Starting with a poor setup or bad mouth position is only going to result in frustration, limited technique, and probably retraining down the road... Hope that helps! Holiday hugs, Jeremy
The Licorice Shtick Blog is the creation of the Vintage Clarinet Doctor, a Winston Salem, NC based woodwind instrument repair shop specializing in vintage and antique clarinets, saxophones, and the occasional flute.