Reeds 101 (Part 1): How to Choose the Right Woodwind Reeds

Reeds 101 (Part 1): How to Choose the Right Woodwind Reeds  

 How do I choose a clarinet reed? What strength reed should I choose?


Ask any woodwind reed player and they will tell you: reeds are everything. Reeds can make or break your sound and improperly maintained or broken reeds can quickly frustrate any player. Learning how to choose the right reeds can seem like a mystery, but with these tips you will feel confident that you can find the right reeds for you. 


This post is the first part of an ongoing series of posts about woodwind reeds. This week, we will talk about finding the right reeds. Next week’s post will be about reed maintenance.




What are Reeds?


Woodwind instruments that use reeds are part of the reed family. The reed family includes instruments which use double reeds-- including the oboe, bassoon, and English horn-- as well as single reed instruments-- including saxophones and clarinets. Reeds are made of cane. According to Yamaha, the cane is cut into four pieces, before being shaved to produce reeds. Reeds are attached to the mouthpiece of the instrument and need to be moistened before playing. Once moistened and attached to the mouthpiece, they vibrate, creating a sound. 

 

Which Reed is Best?


Reeds come in many different strengths, brands, and styles, so how do you know which reed to choose? The following tips will help you to pick out the perfect reeds.

 

 

  
  • Try some out  The best way to find out what reeds work for you is to try out different strengths, brands, and cuts. Keep experimenting and be open to reeds you haven’t played on before. 


 
  • Ask your music teacher  Since they spend lots of time listening to you play, your private teacher or band instructor can have valuable insight into what reeds would best suit you as a player. 

 


 What Strength Should a Beginner Reed be?


Reeds come in varying strengths and players move up to stronger reeds after obtaining more playing experience. Beginning players should start out on weaker reeds, advancing to stronger reeds every few years of playing or at the suggestion of a music teacher.


 Double reeds usually range in strength from Medium-soft to medium-hard, while single reeds usually range from size 2.0 to size 4.0 and beyond. 


When to move up to a Stronger Reed 


How do you know when it is time to start using a stronger reed?


  • Ask your teacher 

It can be helpful to consult with a music teacher. Someone who constantly hears you play will be able to discern if the reed you are using is too weak.


  • Pay attention to your sound 

 A reed should not feel so strong that you can’t blow through it, but it also should not be too weak. If your reed is creating a weak and airy sound or feels too easy to blow through it may be time to move up a size. 


  • Try a stronger reed 

Sometimes you don’t know that it’s time to move up to a stronger reed until you try one out. Try buying a smaller pack of the next size up, or ask to borrow one from a teacher or friend and see how it affects your playing.


  • Take your time 

If you are interested in trying the next reed size up, try playing on a stronger reed for a few minutes a day. Play with the stronger reed during warm-ups and scales in rehearsal before going back to your normal size reed. This will help you to build up the endurance and embouchure that a thicker reed requires. 


 

What’s the difference between filed and unfiled reeds?


You may have noticed that some clarinet and saxophones reeds are labelledfiled orunfiled.” What does this mean and which ones should you choose?



  • Filed Reeds  Clarinet and saxophone reeds that are filed have a line of bark removed from the top (shaved) part of the reed.  According to the D’Addario website, filed reeds are appropriate for “beginning and advancing players.” D’Addario says they offer “additional tonal clarity.” 

 
  • Unfiled Reeds  Reeds that are unfiled do not have this extra line of bark removed. D’Addario says that unfiled reeds are perfect for “beginners,” providing “ease of response” and “added support.” 

 

Unfiled reeds are a great start for beginners. As you progress in your playing, try out some filed reeds to see which ones you prefer. Remember that different reeds work for every player, so try out both filed and unfiled!


By consulting with your teacher and trying out a variety of reeds, you will be well on your way to finding the best reeds for you! The next time you’re at the music store, try buying a variety of reeds or try a new brand or style of reeds. You may be surprised at how a new reed affects your playing. Stay tuned for next week’s post, which will talk about how to preserve your reeds once you’ve found the right ones!