How to Choose a Clarinet Reed

 

You can purchase the most expensive, handcrafted clarinet from the best music store in the country, but if the reed is subpar the clarinet will sound like a cheap, defective instrument purchased from a pawn shop. While every part of a clarinet serves its own purpose in providing that distinct ‘clarinet’ sound, some say the most important piece is two-and-a-half inch long, paper-thin piece of cane otherwise known as the reed. Although clarinet reeds come in different strengths and cuts, choosing a good reed is crucial for producing quality sounds and tones. If you’re in the market for a clarinet reed, here are some tips for choosing a high-quality reed that will perfectly complement your clarinet.

 

Brand Matters

While there are plenty of clarinet reed brands on the market, only a handful are trusted by beginners and advanced players alike, including Vandoren, Rico, and D’Addario. Rico is a U.S. brand that’s favored by beginners, as the reeds are easy to use for someone who is still learning mouth and strength positioning. Vandoren, which also specializes in mouthpieces, is a French brand that’s known for their craftsmanship and attention to detail, while D’Addario specializes in manufacturing strings for a variety of instruments. If you’re still relatively new to playing the clarinet, both Rico and Vandoren are highly recommended brands.

 

D'Addario Woodwinds Reserve Classic Bb Clarinet Reeds 10-Pack The D’Addario Reserve Classic is a thick blank reed that offers a rich, warm tone, a heavy spine that promotes dynamic flexibility and exceptional tone quality in all registers, a narrow rail slope to produce consistency of response, and a traditional tip thickness for ease of articulation. Learn More.

Choose a Strength

Clarinet reeds come in various strengths, and use a number system. The system ranges from 1 to 5, and uses half numbers to help evaluate the hardness. The higher the number, the harder the reed. The goal of any clarinetist is to play the hardest reed they can handle, as the sound improves with each increment. While this should be the ultimate goal, a clarinet player should never jump into using a reed that’s too hard for them, as this will make it harder for the player to produce sound. Beginners should start at a 1.5 or 2 and gradually work their way up to a harder reed. In some cases, clarinet reed manufacturers use “soft”, “medium”, and “hard” to label the hardness of their reeds.

Decide on a Cut

Typically, reeds come in two different cuts: a regular cut or a French file cut. Although cut won’t matter to a beginning student, French file cuts typically have a faster response time. One way to decide on a cut is to “match” it with the type of mouthpiece your clarinet has. If your clarinet has a darker-sounding mouthpiece, French file cuts are typically preferred. Alternatively, regular-cut reeds are ideal for brighter sounding mouthpieces. If you still aren’t sure about the cut, you can’t go wrong with choosing a Vandoren clarinet reed- most clarinet teachers recommend them over other brands.

Vandoren V21 Bb Clarinet Reeds Vandoren has created the clarinet reed for the 21st Century. Incorporating the shape and thickness of the 56 Rue Lepic combined with the profile of the V12, the result is a reed that has tremendous clarity, warmth and depth. Boxes of 10, strengths 2.5 – 5. Learn More.

Buy in Bulk

When it comes to purchasing reeds, it’s always best to buy in bulk- that way you won’t be frequenting the music store and you’ll have the option of picking and choosing only the best reeds in the batch. A box of ten clarinet reeds should last the average player a few weeks, but you can always choose to buy more just in case. Once you open the box, inspect each reed individually and throw out any that have visible splits or cracks. In most cases, a clarinetist will discard 3-4 reeds from each box of 10. In addition to splits or cracks, keep an eye out for uneven grain, knots, or discolored reeds. Throw the duds out, and keep at least 3 reeds to play with at all times.

Maintain Your Reeds

Along with purchasing the right reeds for your ability, caring for and maintaining your clarinet reeds is equally important. Store clarinet reeds in a case that protects them from moisture and extreme temperatures. New reeds, like a new pair of shoes, need to be broken in over time- don’t play  new reeds for more than ten minutes at a time, and pay attention for waterlogged reeds, or reeds that look wet, streaky, and almost see-through. Remember to switch your reeds out often, and avoid playing the same clarinet reed more than two days in a row.

 

D'Addario Multi-Instrument Reed Vitalizer Case Standard The Rico Reed Case-the only case designed to work with the Reed Vitalizer Automatic Humidity Control System (HCS). Fits all sizes of clarinet and saxophone reeds. Learn More.

Other Tips

In order to avoid accidentally playing the same reed over and over, write the date on the back of a reed you’ve just started playing. Keep an eye on the date, and switch out the reeds as necessary. Some clarinetists prefer to use checkmarks as a monitoring system. As the reeds dry out, they warp. In order to allow your reeds to dry properly, don’t leave your reed on the mouthpiece after you’re done playing. Instead, store them in the plastic or paper sleeves they came in. Additionally, intermediate and advanced players should learn how to flatten and polish their reeds, store their reeds properly, and experiment with using sandpaper or reed knives to adjust their reeds accordingly.

 

Need to rent a clarinet? Check out our Clarinet Rental Guide.

Want more info about the clarinet? Check out this video:

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4 Comments
  1. Explaining how to maintain clarinet reeds is very helpful. I’m trying to get my son to start learning how to play the clarinet, so it seems like he should also know how to keep it in good condition. It’s interesting that new reeds need to be broken in over time. I’ll also let him know to pay attention to whether his reeds are getting waterlogged. This information will be useful for him to know, so I’ll pass this along. Thanks for the tips!

  2. My daughter is trying an Eb clarinet. Should she try a softer reed than the hardness she uses with her Bb 3?

  3. I will be doubling clarinet and bassoon for the summer. I have very nice Noblet artist clarinet recently refurbished, B45 vabdoran moutpiece. I am an intermediate player looking for therightt mouhpiece reed ombiniation for the intrument without spending tons of money trying different reeds. My embouchure is in the strengthening stage right now. Need advice on the best mouthpiece reed comboo for this instrument for nice mellow tone and ease of response. The more I reed the more I have no idea which way to go . Id like to stay under $100 on the mouthpiece.

  4. I used to play clarinet in symphonic band in both high school and college and even took lessons for a few years. But much of this information is new to me! I saw an episode of a TV show the other night where a character was murdered when someone poisoned his reed. A band mate mentioned that the murder victim “chose a softer reed for the lower notes” and I knew that didn’t even begin to make sense! Too bad they didn’t check your website first for accuracy! (And really, did they HAVE to kill off a clarinetist?) I am so glad I found this site!

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