How to Choose a Reed for a Clarinet

Опубликовал Admin
27-09-2016, 19:45
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While every part of the clarinet has its own purpose in producing a good sound, perhaps the most important piece is the two-and-a-half inch long, wafer-thin piece of cane called the reed. Reeds come in different strengths and cuts, and can be good or bad. A good reed is vitally important for a good sound and tone, so it's important to be able to identify one.


  1. Choose a brand. There are many to choose from, and all brands make and sell their reeds a little differently. Rico, a US brand, is popular with all clarinetists, and is often recommended for beginners. It also makes reeds under the La Voz and Mitchell Lurie names. Vandoren (which also makes mouthpieces) is a popular French brand. Other French brands, some lesser known than others, include Selmer (which also makes clarinets), Rigotti, Marca, Glotin, and Brancher. Some other (and more uncommon) brand names are Alexander Superial (Japan), Reeds Australia, Peter Ponzol (also makes mouthpieces), RKM, and Zonda. If you're still relatively new to playing, Rico and Vandoren are both highly recommended brands.
  2. Decide what strength you'll need. Most reed manufacturers sell reeds in strengths from 1 to 5, often in half-steps. A 1 would be the softest, and a 5 would be the hardest. Some brands use "soft", "medium", and "hard" instead. For a beginner, a 2, or 2 /12 would be the best starting point. Keep in mind, however, that what one brand calls a 2 1/2 may be another brand's 2 or 3. Also, a box of 2 1/2s will have some variants... some that are closer to a hard 2, or a soft 3. A reed comparison chart such as this one (PDF) can help you see how different brands compare to each other on a strength scale.
    • A harder reed gives a heavier, thicker, and fuller sound. It's more difficult to correct the pitch with a harder reed, but it also means that changing dynamics won't result in pitch variations as easily. It's also more difficult to play low pitches softly with a hard reed, but altissimo notes are easier to reach.
    • A softer reed makes playing easier - the reed speaks more easily, and gives a lighter, brighter sound. However, there is a greater chance for pitch variations as you play, though it is easier to correct the pitch with your embouchure. High notes can be difficult to achieve with a soft reed. Also, fast tonguing (16th notes at 90 or more BPM) can be harder on softer reeds.
  3. Decide on a cut. Reeds come in either "regular" or "French file" cuts. Cut won't matter to a beginning student, but file-cut reeds generally have a faster response time, and the few extra bucks to buy them are definitely worth it. You can identify a regular-cut reed as having the cane on the bottom meet the sanded part in a clean U-shape. On a file-cut reed, part of the "U" has been shaved down a bit to create a flat edge on the thick cane (see image). Players with darker-sounding mouthpieces may prefer filed reeds, while ones with brighter-sounding ones will stick with regular-cut ones.
  4. Go to the music store and buy a box of reeds. It's okay to buy one or two, but the more reeds you have, the more good ones you have, and buying in bulk will save you a lot of trips to the music store. A box of ten should last you a few weeks, though you can choose to buy more.
  5. Take all the reeds out of the box, and get ready to evaluate them.
    • Check for splits and cracks. Throw away any broken reeds - they're beyond hope already.
    • Hold them up to the light, one at a time. You should see an inverted "V" shape. A good reed has a perfectly centered and symmetrical "V". A "crooked" V will be hard to play, and there is a risk of squeaks.
      • However, if the "V" is only slightly off-centered, you can remedy the problem by shifting the reed slightly so that the "V" is centered on the mouthpiece (not centered on the reed)
    • An uneven grain (where the little vertical lines in the reed are pointing towards the V instead of running straight through it) will not play well, either.
    • A reed with knots (little spots or dark areas in the grain) will vibrate unevenly, and is also a dud.
    • Take a look at the color. A good reed is yellow to golden-brown. A green reed is too young, and will not play well, if it plays at all. Take green reeds and leave them somewhere for a few months - sometimes they improve themselves over time.
  6. Play-test the good reeds. The duds can be thrown away or left to sit for a few months, depending on what was wrong, and you should be left with a handful of good ones. Test them to make sure they play well, and always have at least 3 good reeds on hand. You can purchase a special reed holder for this.


  • Synthetic (plastic) reeds, a relatively new invention, are available from brands such as BARI, Fiberreed, Fibracell, Hahn, Hartmann, Legere, Olivieri, and RKM. They cost between 5 to 20 dollars each. They don't need to be wet first, last much longer, and are very consistent. However, some players feel that they sound shrill or harsh. Instead of full plastic reeds, plastic coated reeds are also available.
    • Because they are so durable, easy to use, and long-lasting, synthetic reeds are a good idea for marching band season. Between being outside and being manhandled to an extent, regular cane reeds don't always have a very long life in marching band, and they can be difficult to play. Synthetic reeds are more expensive, but they last roughly 15 times longer than a cane reed, and many people feel that it's more practical to spend twenty dollars on a reed that will last for a month instead of twenty dollars on a new box of reeds every week. In addition, synthetic reeds do tend to have a "bright", or even shrill sound, but this doesn't matter as much in a marching band setting, and they are easier to play loudly.
  • You can mark your reeds with a "+ and -" system. After evaluating each reed, mark the case with a maximum of two pluses if it's really good, or a maximum or two minuses if it's really bad.
  • If on soprano your reed strength is 2 1/2. On bass clarinet you go down to a 2 or sometimes, depending on the person, you might even go down to 1 1/2.
  • If you're allergic to cane, coated reeds are available just for people with your allergy like the Rico Plasticover.
  • If you don't like the taste of cane, even though it might be tempting (a student of mine did this) get flavored reeds or ex. bubble gum flavor reed water. The reed quality and consistency is HORRIBLE! and they are a HUGE waste of money.
  • An experienced clarinetist may want to try adjusting bad reeds by cutting a tiny bit off the front with a reed-cutter (for reeds that are too soft), or scraping/sanding it down with a knife or piece of Dutch rush (for reeds that are too hard). Don't do this without a good idea of what you're doing (so beginners (and you "pros" don't either. Yes, I mean you, high school students) don't try this), though, and keep in mind that some reeds will be impossible to fix, no matter what you try.


  • Don't complain about a "bad" box of reeds. The reeds have been through a lot of shipping to get to you, and the cane varies. You'll get a box of all duds every once in a while... just go with it, and buy another box, if necessary. ALL brands normally have AT LEAST one or two bad reeds a box (for a consistent brand) while some brands have about 7/10 or 8/10 of the reeds are bad
  • When adjusting reeds, be very careful, as it's easy to remove too much. Taking as little as 1/100 mm from the tip of a reed makes it 10% thinner, and you can't "repair" a reed once you've messed it up.
  • Don't CONSTANTLY upgrade your reed size OR start with anything greater than a 2 1/2 (i recommend starting on 2's however). This is a mistake MANY beginners make. I recommend starting with size 2 of the Rico orange box to start with.The misconception is, the harder reed you use, the better you are. INCORRECT. It has to do with, the style of music (a jazz player NEVER uses reeds really harder than about a 3), the tip opening of the mouthpiece (ex. a 7 tip opening should be about size 2 /12 to 3 reeds 'for a PRO'), the reeds thickness (ex. Rico Reserve vs Rico Royal), and the brand of reed your using (Some are WAY softer than what the range is).
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