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With marching band in full swing, and beginning clarinet students on the horizon, August seems like a perfect month to talk clarinet reeds 101.

REMINDER: Without the reed, the clarinet won’t make a sound.

While this might seem a bit obvious, it makes it pretty clear how critical a well-adjusted, properly fitted reed can be to the player trying to achieve the results you most want from their efforts.

Basic Tips: Reed Selection & Care

Encourage your beginners to buy a more expensive quality brand name reed as soon as they can demonstrated they have stopped breaking their reeds frequently.  This usually should not take any longer than a few months.  I personally love to go up first to Gonzalez Classic 2.0 and before Vandoren Traditional 2.0 because they are slightly less of a big strength step up. (See chart below.)

The quality of the cane truly matters.

Rico reeds are a great for the first 3 months, but they have less ‘spine’ or ‘heart’ in the reed. This makes it easier for the player to make a sound at first, but because they are so soft, if students learn quickly how to properly blow into their mouthpiece, it could actually cause them to not make any sound at all because the reed has little spine and will easily collapse and stop vibrating on the mouthpiece. Moving them to a better reed sooner will help them get a much better sound earlier, which will inspire them to work harder and ignite their abilities. The better the quality of the cane the more spine the reed has and the more-dense and smooth it will be. Lesser quality cane is more rough, grainy or mealy.

Make sure every single clarinetist has a reed guard they purchased separately from the reed case that comes with their reed. Never store reeds in the case they came in. The packaging the manufacturer provided does not promote the even drying of the reed, as it was simply a storage decide to help it not break before use. Reeds need to be stored on a flat surface to help they lay flat and not warp. Reed guards apply a little downward pressure on the reed so they stick to its flat surface which in turn makes them play better because they are flat on the back.

If a clarinetist changes mouthpieces, they will need new reeds. When played, reeds form to the facing of a mouthpiece and when you switch mouthpieces those same reeds will not play well anymore on the new facing, as a result.

Make sure beginners and concert band clarinetists have at least 3-4 reeds that are free of chips that they are rotating playing on at any given time. It is critical reeds don’t become water logged because it just makes them stop vibrating which is the reason they exist in the first place- to produce lots of sound. Waterlogged reeds often die faster too and need to be replaced even if they are not chipped.

Adjusting Reeds

There is much to be said about the adjustment of reeds, that has already been written well. Learning how to adjust reeds, and teaching your students, or asking a private lesson teacher to teach them instead, is an excellent idea. The more you understand how to adjust them, the better your students will play and sound and the happier their parents will be because less money on reeds will be spent.

There is a great article written by Maryanne Lacaille on the International Clarinet Associations website you can find here:

If you would like a more comprehensive resource, I would consider buying Larry Guy’s book titled:  Selection, Adjustment, and Care of Single Reeds. I would consider this the go to resource for reed adjustment at any level.

Breaking in New Reeds

For most young players, it takes some time for them to gain control over how much saliva flows into their mouth and at what speed when they play. For some period of time, it is too much, making it really easy to soak reeds to much and waterlog them.

When placing a reed in your mouth for the first time, encourage new and developing clarinetists to just quickly wait the reed in their mouth for less than 30 seconds. The reed just needs to be wet enough to vibrate not soaked.

Have your section or beginner play no more than 10 minutes on a new reed, at first. Teaching them to rotate between reeds is a good practice to help your section and beginners alike to understand the importance of caring for their reeds to produce a great sound.

When putting reeds away, teach your students to wipe off the back and the front of the with two fingers- as if they were squeezing the water out of the reed. Moving from the back of the reed- or its but to the front of the reed, pull the water out. You can also teach them to rub the back of the reed on a clean dry flat surface at first to help seal the back. Reeds last longer if they don’t get water logged and actually build up some protection from the natural oils in the skin that is left from wiping them off with two fingers. You can also teach them to rub on the front and the back of the reed carefully- as long as you stay away from the tip of the reed which is most delicate and easiest to break.  I often will rub the back of the reed along the side of my nose because I can seal it up fastest using the natural oil on my face.

I hope clarinet reeds 101 was informative and helpful for you. If I can offer any further advice or help your clarinet students play their best this fall and beyond, don’t hesitate to reach out.