The clarinet is a type of woodwind instrument that has a single-reed mouthpiece, a straight cylindrical tube with an approximately cylindrical bore, and a flaring bell. A person who plays the clarinet is called a clarinetist or clarinettist.
The word clarinet may have entered the English language via the French clarinette (the feminine diminutive of Old French clarin or clarion), or from Provençal clarin, "oboe". It "is plainly a diminutive of clarino, the Italian for trumpet", and the Italian clarinetto is the source of the name in many other languages. According to Johann Gottfried Walther, writing in 1732, the reason for the name was that "it sounded from far off not unlike a trumpet". This may indicate its strident quality in the upper register, although in the low register it was "feeble and buzzing". The English form clarinet is found as early as 1733, and the now-archaic clarionet appears from 1784 until the early years of the 20th century.
There are many types of clarinets of differing sizes and pitches, comprising a large family of instruments. The unmodified word clarinet usually refers to the B♭ soprano clarinet, by far the most common type, which has a large range of nearly four octaves. The clarinet family is the largest woodwind family, with more than a dozen types, ranging from the (extremely rare) BBB♭ octo-contrabass to the A♭ piccolo clarinet. Of these, many are rare or obsolete (there is only one BBB♭ octo-contrabass clarinet in existence, for example), and music written for them is usually played on more common versions of the instrument.
A single-reed instrument is a woodwind instrument that uses only one reed to produce sound. The very earliest single-reed instruments were documented in ancient Egypt, as well as the Middle East, Greece, and the Roman Empire. The earliest types of single-reed instruments used idioglottal reeds, where the vibrating reed is a tongue cut and shaped on the tube of cane. Much later, single-reed instruments started using heteroglottal reeds, where a reed is cut and separated from the tube of cane and attached to a mouthpiece of some sort. By contrast, in a double reed instrument (such as the oboe and bassoon), there is no mouthpiece; the two parts of the reed vibrate against one another. Reeds are traditionally made of cane and produce sound when air is blown across or through them.
Most single-reed instruments are descended from single-reed idioglot instruments called 'memet', found in Egypt as early as 2700 BCE. Due to their fragility, no instruments from antiquity were preserved but iconographic evidence is prevalent. During the Old Kingdom in Egypt (2778-2723 BCE), memets were depicted on the reliefs of seven tombs at Saqqarra, six tombs at Gixa, and the pyramids of Queen Khentkaus. Most memets were double-clarinets, where two reed tubes were tied or glued together to form one instrument. Multiple pipes were used to reinforce sound or generate a strong beat-tone with slight variations in tuning among the pipes. Multiple pipes were used to reinforce sound or generate a strong beat-tone with slight variations in tuning among the pipes. One of the tubes usually functioned as a drone, but the design of these simple instruments varied endlessly. The entire reed entered the mouth, meaning that the player could not easily articulate so melodies were defined by quick movement of the fingers on the tone holes. These types of double-clarinets are still prevalent today, but also developed into simplified single-clarinets and hornpipes. Modern day idioglots found in Eygpt include the arghul Arghul and the zummara.