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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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