Contra-Alto Clarinet parts
for 121 Concert Band pieces
So, you play the contra-alto clarinet? (Or perhaps the “Eb contrabass clarinet,” or the “contralto clarinet,” or the “contra alto clarinet”?) Well, whatever you happen to call the thing, you probably share my frustration that there are few band pieces, especially recent pieces, that include a part for your instrument. So if you want to play, that leaves you with seven basic choices:
  • Play the bass clarinet part. This puts you in the right section, but you have to transpose everything up a fifth. And while the bass clarinet often plays the tenor line, the contra-alto is a natural bass instrument.
  • Play the baritone sax part. No transposing here, but it puts you in the same range as the bass clarinet: not optimal for your instrument. It also may make you part of the sax section instead of the clarinet section.
  • Play the tuba part. This puts you in the right range for your instrument (true bass!), but you have to do the Clef-and-Accidentals shuffle, and you may end up being part of the brass section, not the clarinet section.
  • Play the bassoon part. The bassoon often plays the baseline for the woodwinds, so this may occasionally work, but you still have to do the Clef-and-Accidentals shuffle, and the part may be used to cover various tenor and alto lines, which are not in the ideal range for your instrument
  • Play the string bass part. This puts you in the right range for your instrument, and tends to put you in the right section most of the time (the string bass often being written to bolster the bass of the woodwind section). But again you have to do the Clef-and-Accidentals shuffle (with an octave drop), and you'll find that in many parts the articulations (slurs, staccatos, legatos, etc.) are missing.
  • Play the Bb contrabass clarinet part. This puts you in the right section every time. But occasionally it puts you below the range for your instrument, and you have to transpose everything down a fourth.
  • Write your own contra-alto clarinet part. If you're adept at orchestration, you can create your own part, one in the right range, in the right section, with all the right markings. This is time consuming, but yields the best result.
Alas, I've chosen to do the latter.

Now, so that you won't have to do the same, I'm posting here my 'masterpieces'... in easy-to-print PDF format. If my concert band happens to have played a piece that you are playing, you'll be able to just download and print out your part, and then it will sound just right! (That is, if you play the instrument well.)

There is no profit to be made here, no fees to pay, no real market stolen. These parts will be of little use to anyone who hasn't already obtained a full copy of the piece. But hopefully I will have done my little part to promoting the use and enjoyment of this wonderful, versatile, and often neglected member of the clarinet section, which I believe adds a beautiful depth to the woodwind section of a concert band.

Piece Composer/Arranger PDF
Aladdin, Selections from arr. John Moss DOWNLOAD
American Overture for Band Joseph Willcox Jenkins DOWNLOAD
American Salute Morton Gould DOWNLOAD
Americans We ed. Frederick Fennell DOWNLOAD
Amor de mi alma transc. Frederick Umar DOWNLOAD
Armed Forces Salute arr. Bob Lowden DOWNLOAD
Army of the Nile Kenneth J. Alford DOWNLOAD
Bandolero Glenn Osser DOWNLOAD
Barnum and Bailey's Favorite March arr. Glen Cliffe Bainum DOWNLOAD
Big Band Cavalcade arr. Andy Clark DOWNLOAD
Big Band Favorites arr. Bob Lowden DOWNLOAD
Big Band Tribute arr. John Watson DOWNLOAD
Blue and the Gray Clare Grundman DOWNLOAD
Bogorditse Devo arr. Salzman DOWNLOAD
Bolero arr. J. Bocook DOWNLOAD
Bombasto March O. R. Farrar DOWNLOAD
Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy arr. Jim Ott DOWNLOAD
Chant and Jubilo W. Francis McBeth DOWNLOAD
Chillers and Thrillers arr.John Moss DOWNLOAD
Chorus Line The Movie arr.John Edmondson DOWNLOAD
Christmas Concerto No. 2 arr. Robert W. Smith DOWNLOAD
The Circus Bee March Henry Fillmore DOWNLOAD
Colonel Bogey March Kenneth J. Alford DOWNLOAD
Copacabana arr. Naohiro Iwai DOWNLOAD
Danzas Cubanas Robert Sheldon DOWNLOAD
Danzón Nº 2 ins. Juan Villodre DOWNLOAD
December 7, 1941 James D. Ployhar DOWNLOAD
Disney at the Movies arr. John Higgins DOWNLOAD
Dixieland Jam! arr. Bob Lowden DOWNLOAD
Don't Cry For Me, Argentina arr. Michael Sweeney DOWNLOAD
El Cumbanchero arr. Naohiro Iwai DOWNLOAD
El Salón México transc. Mark H. Hindsley DOWNLOAD
Entry of the Gladiators ed. Van B. Ragsdale DOWNLOAD
España Cañi ed. Van B. Ragsdale DOWNLOAD
Esprit de Corps Robert Jager DOWNLOAD
Fanfare for a Golden Sky Scott Boerma DOWNLOAD
Farandole Georges Bizet DOWNLOAD
Festa Elliott A. Del Borgo DOWNLOAD
Flight of the Flutes Richard Maltby DOWNLOAD
Funeral March of a Marionette arr. Stephen Squires DOWNLOAD
Game of Thrones arr. Michael Brown DOWNLOAD
Gandalf Johan de Meij DOWNLOAD
Gavorkna Fanfare Jack Stamp DOWNLOAD
Granada arr. Robert Longfield DOWNLOAD
Grease, Selections from arr. Ted Ricketts DOWNLOAD
Harmony Heaven March arr. John P. Paynter DOWNLOAD
Hook arr. Jack Bullock DOWNLOAD
How to Train Your Dragon arr. Johnnie Vinson DOWNLOAD
Hymn to the Fallen John Williams DOWNLOAD
I'll Be Home for Christmas arr. Calvin Custer DOWNLOAD
In Nature's Glory Brian Balmages DOWNLOAD
In The Hall Of The Mountain King arr. Lloyd Conley DOWNLOAD
Into the Clouds Richard L. Saucedo DOWNLOAD
Into the Woods, Selections from arr. Stephen Bulla DOWNLOAD
Irish Folk Song Suite Frank Erickson DOWNLOAD
Irish Trilogy arr. Larry Daehn DOWNLOAD
Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring transcr. Erik W. G. Leidzén DOWNLOAD
John Williams: The Symphonic Marches John Williams DOWNLOAD
Kentucky - 1800 Clare Grundman DOWNLOAD
La Virgen de la Macarena adap. Calvin Custer DOWNLOAD
Law and Order March Harry L. Alford DOWNLOAD
Les Misérables arr. Warren Barker DOWNLOAD
The Legend of Zorro arr. Michael Brown DOWNLOAD
Lux Aurumque Eric Whitacre DOWNLOAD
Mambo arr. Michael Sweeney DOWNLOAD
Man of the Hour March Henry Fillmore DOWNLOAD
Mancini Spectacular arr. Warren Barker DOWNLOAD
Marche Joyeuse Chabrier DOWNLOAD
A Mariah Carey Christmas arr. Joe Murphy DOWNLOAD
Music for a Darkened Theatre arr. Michael Brown DOWNLOAD
New York: 1927 Warren Barker DOWNLOAD
Night on Bald Mountain arr. Mark Williams DOWNLOAD
Noisy Wheels of Joy Eric Whitacre DOWNLOAD
Novo Lenio Samuel R. Hazo DOWNLOAD
October Eric Whitacre DOWNLOAD
The Old Grumbly Bear arr. Andrew Glover DOWNLOAD
On a Winter's Night arr. John Moss DOWNLOAD
On the Trail Ferde Grofé DOWNLOAD
An Original Suite for Military Band Gordon Jacob DOWNLOAD
Our Director March Robert Bigelow DOWNLOAD
Over the Rainbow arr. Warren Barker DOWNLOAD
Overture for a Summer Concert Hugh M. Stuart DOWNLOAD
Pas Redoublé Camille Saint-Saëns DOWNLOAD
Peter and the Wolf arr. Jim Curnow DOWNLOAD
The Phantom of the Opera Medley arr. Johnnie Vinson DOWNLOAD
Polar Express arr. Jerry Brubaker DOWNLOAD
Prime Time Toon Revue Arr. Ted Ricketts DOWNLOAD
Prologue from West Side Story arr. B. Gilmore DOWNLOAD
The Promise of Living arr. James Curnow DOWNLOAD
Queen of the Night's Aria arr. Geoffrey Brand DOWNLOAD
Richard Rogers Richard Rogers DOWNLOAD
Ride Samuel R. Hazo DOWNLOAD
Ritual Fire Dance arr. Jay Bocook DOWNLOAD
Romanza Ralph Ford DOWNLOAD
Romeo and Juliet trans. Maurice Gardner DOWNLOAD
Romeo and Juliet arr. Bill Holcombe DOWNLOAD
Root Beer Rag arr. Michael Sween DOWNLOAD
Russian Christmas Music Alfred Reed DOWNLOAD
Second Suite for Band Alfred Reed DOWNLOAD
Semper Liberi Robert W. Smith DOWNLOAD
Sinfonía No 9 Walter S. Hartley DOWNLOAD
Skysplitter Vincent J. Oppido DOWNLOAD
Sound of Music Selection Richard Rodgers DOWNLOAD
Spanish Fire Will Schaeffer DOWNLOAD
Sun Dance Frank Ticheli DOWNLOAD
Sunstorm Jeff Jordan DOWNLOAD
Sure on this Shining Night arr. Richard L. Saucedo DOWNLOAD
Symphony No. 6 arr. Larry Daehn DOWNLOAD
Tocatta for Band Frank Erickson DOWNLOAD
Two from the Classics Franz Schubert DOWNLOAD
The Ultimate Patriotic Sing-Along arr. Jerry Brubaker DOWNLOAD
Variations on a Danish Folk Song James Sudduth DOWNLOAD
West Side Story arr. Jay Bocook DOWNLOAD
When Jesus Wept William Schuman DOWNLOAD
White Christmas arr. John Moss DOWNLOAD
Wicked, Highlights from arr. Michael Brown DOWNLOAD
Wicked, Selections from arr. Jay Bocook DOWNLOAD
Wind Dancer Jim Colonna DOWNLOAD
The Witch and the Saint arr. Mark Conaway DOWNLOAD
With Each Sunset Ronald L. Saucedo DOWNLOAD
Wrong Note Rag Leonard Bernstein DOWNLOAD
Tips on writing a part for contra-alto clarinet:
  1. The parts of the score that you will likely base your contra-alto part on are: the bass clarinet, the bassoon, the baritone sax, the tuba, and the string bass.
  2. Remember that the “bass” clarinet often covers the tenor line of the music. Sometimes your contra-alto part will differ quite a bit from the bass clarinet.
  3. Remember that the bari sax and tuba often play in passages meant for brass instruments. A contra-alto clarinet is more purely a woodwind.
  4. String bass parts often make excellent sources for contra-alto parts, because they often supply the needed bass depth for the woodwind section. Just remember that many of the articulations (staccato, legato, slurs) may be missing in pizzicato passages. You may have to look at the bass clarinet, bassoon or tuba part to get the appropriate articulation for the passage. The contra-alto clarinet can do an excellent job of obtaining the sound of a pizzicato string bass walking line, whether soft or loud.
  5. You can sometimes write the contra-alto part an octave lower than the bassline. In somber passages, contra clarinets are able to play quite softly and gracefully in a range where other instruments would sound muddy or harsh. They can also play loud, complex contrabass passages more crisply than tuba or contrabassoon (the length of the cylindrical tubing of a contra-alto clarinet is half that of any other wind instrument of the same range, so it responds quickly in the low register). Just remember that this effect is best when limited to a few, carefully selected passages; a whole piece of groveling in the basement is contra abuse.
  6. Many contra-alto clarinets out there are old and in poor condition, and don't play well throughout the entire range of the instrument. The written notes B natural and C in the middle of the staff (concert D and Eb in the tenor range) may have a tendency to squeak or squawk when preceded by lower notes. Notes above written G on the top of the staff (concert Bb near middle C) may not respond if the octave key system on the instrument is not in excellent adjustment.
  7. In the clarion range (between written B in the middle of the staff and written C above the staff), the contra-alto in inexperienced hands may sound quite brilliant, more like a tenor saxophone than a clarinet, especially when played forte or fortissimo.
See also my English Horn parts for Concert Band pieces.