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Choosing Clarinet and Saxophone Reeds

Published on 11/08/2011

Which brand and size of reed to buy is important. You need to choose the clarinet reed or saxophone reed that will help you play the best. Reeds are usually made of cane and they are essential for creating the sound in clarinets and saxophones.

Strength of Reed

Reeds are usually sized 1 - 5. For most beginners it is best to start with 1½ strength. The thicker (or harder) the reed, the more difficult it will be to produce a note, but the nicer the note will sound. As your jaw muscles get stronger you will need to increase the strength of reed.

It it takes lots of breath to get a note and you can hear air escaping from the side of your mouth then the reed might be too hard.

Sticking with a softer reed once you've been playing a while, can produce a buzzy kind of tone and might sound flat. Higher notes on the instrument will be difficult to reach with a softer reed. You will need to move up to the next strength of reed.

Brands of Reeds

Rico Royal are ideally suited to beginners. The Rico reed is a great choice for the amateur player. They are reasonably priced, reasonably consistent within the box, and produce a nice sound. They can be quickly broken in after they'be been used a few times to produce a consistent sound.

Vandoren reeds are best suited to the more advancing players. These reeds can produce a better tone for professional players.

How many Reeds to Buy?

Reeds unfortunately have a short life span. How long a reed lasts depends on how often you play, the brand and the weather. As a natural material, the cane reed is afffected by humidity. You will know when a reed needs replacing as either, the tip will be broken or the reed will feel soft when you play. Buying a box of reeds will save you lots of trips to the music shop.

Care of Reeds

Reed holders help prevent reeds drying out and warping. Reed guards like this enable you to have a few reeds you can circulate as you play. This allows for an extended life span for the reed.  

Reeds are fragile. They need to be played a few times to produce a consistent tone.They can easily break if you touch the tip with your finger. In general, reeds need to be soaked before you can play them. Then you need to line up the tip of the mouthpiece with the tip of the reed and secure it with the ligature.

Crescendo Music sells reeds individually or by the box. Reeds are available for the Bb and bass clarinet. Saxophone reeds are sold for alto, tenor and soprano.