For anyone who is new to playing the clarinet, clarinet reeds may seem like a relatively small piece of the instrument. It may be small, but the reed is one of the most important parts of the clarinet. Clarinets have a single reed which, together with the mouthpiece onto which the reed is fixed, makes the air in the instrument vibrate when you blow into it. In other words, the reed is what creates the acoustic waves that actually produce sound.
Every clarinetist knows how important the reed is, and most understand that reeds in poor condition result in poor sound. Because reeds are so sensitive and delicate, clarinetists are often concerned with their condition, as the goal of any musician is to produce the best sounds possible. Often times, if the instrument makes an unintended noise (such as a squeak), they are quick to blame the condition of the reed. Clarinet reeds are extremely sensitive to heat and humidity, which can cause them to wear out very quickly. Additionally, reeds change and wear out even as you practice and play normally. While there are some strategies you can adopt which will help you to extend the life of your reeds, it’s very important to know how and when it’s time to adjust your clarinet reeds.
Are There Different Reeds?
Depending on the manufacturer, clarinet reeds have a variety of different classes and naming conventions. You will usually see numbers between 1 and 5, with ½’s in between each whole number. Generally speaking, a 1 will be the softest reed while a 5 will be the hardest. Most people use reeds that are between a 2 and a 3. It’s a good idea to experiment with reeds to see which one plays most comfortably for you. Harder reeds can be more strenuous on your cheek muscles, but softer ones can be more fragile. It’s important to note that these differences do not apply across brands, so it may be less confusing for you to try different types within a single brand in order to learn to differentiate.
How Do I Buy Reeds?
Most music shops sell clarinet reeds, either as a part of a box of multiple reeds or individually. One advantage to buying reeds individually is that you can visually inspect the reed for any obvious problems. It’s common for boxes of reeds to contain a few duds that simply aren’t going to produce a very good sound from the start. It’s possible to purchase reeds over the internet, but take care, as you will not necessarily have any guarantee as to their quality, age, or exposure to heat and humidity. As previously mentioned, you shouldn’t purchase a box of reeds and expect them all to be playable. Instead, make it a point to test each reed individually and throw out the duds.
How Do I Adjust My Clarinet Reeds?
The first step toward using a new reed is to make sure you moisten it for a few minutes. You’ll want to examine the reed to make sure the bottom is perfectly flat before you fix the reed on the clarinet. Once it’s fixed to the instrument, you should play just a little bit, as a way of breaking the reed in. Try not to exceed 15 minutes of playing with a brand new reed.
If you find it’s necessary to adjust a new clarinet reed, there are some important things to remember. First is to be very careful. Reeds are sensitive, and if you don’t work with care, you will end up doing more harm than good. It’s also important to know that you’re going to mess up a few times in the process. Don’t stress about it, expect it. Once you have the experience, you’ll be happy for every reed you sacrificed to gain that knowledge.
What are The Different Parts of a Reed?
The parts of clarinet reeds are the tip, the sides, and the crest. The tip is the thinnest and most sensitive area, and is the part of the reed you have to be most careful with. Experienced clarinetists will often attempt to harden or soften their reeds by sanding or using a reed knife, but this can be very difficult. Remember that the tip is extremely sensitive, so take care when making adjustments. Usually, you’ll want to sand away from the tip to avoid breaking the fibers on the tip. The crest is raised, and you’ll generally want to avoid sanding that part unless you’re trying to change the surface of the entire reed.
Until you’ve gained a proper understanding of your reed and clarinet, it’s not recommended that you try to make serious adjustments. If you do attempt to sand your reed, make sure to get very fine sand paper. You should always wet your sand paper, and place it on a perfectly flat surface. Make sure the bottom of the reed is flat, and that there isn’t dust or anything else on it. If it’s not perfectly flat, you’ll want to run it over the sand paper very softly.
Having a reed squeak is very common. Squeaking occurs if the tip of the reed is too thin and the crest is too strong. Press your reed against a sheet of glass. If it’s sufficiently elastic, it will bend back. If it’s too old or too thin, it will stay bent just a bit. If this is the case, you may want to consider throwing it away and replacing it.
As you gain experience adjusting your reeds, and knowledge of your clarinet, you will begin to become an expert in knowing what adjustments are likely to have the effects that you desire. Always remember, it’s okay to make mistakes, it’s an important part of learning.