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Clarinet Reeds 101

Dr. Amanda McCandless

University of Northern Iowa

Information for Beginner Clarinetists

Rico Orange Box or Juno are good choices.

 Strength 2 is a good place to start.

 Students need 4 reeds at all times.
 Reeds can be stored in the case they come in as long as they are stored in a humidity bag. A
humidity bag is a small Ziploc bag with a humidity pack in it. 72% is optimal for reed storage.
 Reeds should be rotated and students should not play on one reed all the time.
 Student should not play on molded, chipped, or mildewed reeds.
 Reeds should last 3 or 4 weeks if the students do not break them, depending on how much the
student is playing.
 Don’t use a reed trimmer to fix broken reeds.

When should students change reed strength?

 Move to a harder reed when:
o The sound is bright and uncontrolled
o High notes sound flat or are unachievable
o The student feels little resistance
o The sound is unfocused and spread – often flat
 Move to a softer reed when:
o The sound is airy
o The student feels a lot of resistance
o The sound does not project and is very small
Information for Intermediate Clarinetists
(2 or 3 years of experience)

Reed options include:

Reed Strength Comparison Chart for Intermediate Reeds

Reed Care for Intermediate Students
 Use the humidity bag
 Students should keep 4-6 reeds at a time, reserving better reeds for concerts or lessons
 Students will need to replace reeds more often, more like 2 or 3 weeks
 When students move on to thicker blank reeds, like Mitchell Lurie or Vandoren, students should
break in reeds rather than play them straight out of the box

Reed Breaking-In Procedures

Useful for Intermediate, Advanced, and Professional Clarinetists
1. Soak reed in water – 30 seconds to one minute
2. Play the reed for 3-4 minutes. Don’t play a lot of high notes or articulate a lot. Long tones work
well for this
3. When finished, wipe the excess moisture from the reed, put it in its reed holder, and return to the
humidity bag.
4. Repeat this for 5-7 days. Often, reeds will start out feeling one way, then will change after 1 or 2
days, then they will settle down and you’ll know exactly how the reed will react. Sometimes it
happens in 5 days, sometimes up to 7. After 7 days, one can safely move on from a reed that
doesn’t work well.
5. Unless you elect to work on the reed, close the pores with 1 micron polishing paper.
6. At the end of the 5-7 day period, decide which reeds are good, okay, and bad. Throw away the
bad ones (or save for another season), save the good ones for special occasions, and work on the
reeds that are okay or use them for practice.

Reed Information for Advanced Students

(4 or more years of experience)
Reed options include:
Reed Strength for Advanced Players

 Beginner and intermediate players increase reed strength as they develop, usually when their
sound starts to become bright and the reed offers little resistance
 Once a student gets to a more advanced level of proficiency, the strength of the reed is
determined by the student’s mouthpiece.
 The larger the tip opening, the softer the reed. The smaller the tip opening, the harder the reed.
 The longer the facing, the harder the reed. The shorter the facing, the softer the reed.

Reed and Mouthpiece Combination Chart

Reed and Strength Mouthpiece Brand and Model

Vandoren or D’Addario 3.5 or harder Vandoren M13 or M13 Lyre
D’Addario XO
Vandoren or D’Addario 3 or harder Vandoren M15, 5RV, 5RV Lyre, M30, M30 Lyre
D’Addario X5, X10, X10E
Vandoren or D’Addario 2.5 or harder Vandoren 11.6 or B46
Vandoren or D’Addario 2 or harder Vandoren B40 Lyre, B45., B45, B40, B45 Lyre
D’Addario X15E, X25E
Reed Adjustment for Advanced Players

Students should follow the break-in procedures listed earlier, then after the 5 to 7 days, they can work
to adjust reeds to fit their needs.

 Container (for soaking reeds)
 Plaque – Muncy Winds or Earspasm Music
 Polishing Paper
 Sandpaper (maybe)
 Other reed tools (maybe)

Clarinet Reed Diagram

• The tip of the reed (in red) should be avoided.

• The reed’s heart (in green) should not be sanded. It will destroy the reed.
• The rails of the reed (in yellow) can be thinned to make a reed softer. Work on rails above
the horizontal line and take a small amount off at a time with polishing paper.
• The blue rectangle can be lightly sanded to improve articulation – if articulation sounds
heavy, this will lighten it. Be very careful here – it is easy to overdo it.
• The pink triangles can be sanded to improve reed’s response and clear up fuzziness in the
clarion register.
• The purple triangles can be sanded to improve the response in the clarion register.
• The orange rectangle can be sanded to make the low notes less fuzzy.
• If the reed does not lay flat on the plaque, it is warped. It can be sanded with polishing
paper or other tools.
• If the reed is too soft, check the balance of either sides of the tip (in the black rectangles).
Sanding the harder side will make the reed harder.

Other Considerations:
• If a new reed has bright yellow or brown spots on the vamp (the cut part of the reed), then it
probably is not going to be a good reed. The color of the stock generally does not make a
• If a reed feels a little bit too hard, lowering it on the mouthpiece helps. Likewise, raising it
slightly on the mouthpiece will make it more resistant.
• The left side of most Vandoren reeds is harder than the right side. Sometimes moving the reed
over to the left slightly will make it respond better without removing any cane.
• Many clarinetists like softer reeds in the summer and harder reeds in the winter.
• Check to see whether a student has tightened the ligature screws correctly. Too tight or too
loose can affect how a reed functions.

Final Thoughts
• Every clarinetist has a specific way to deal with reeds that works for them.
• Reeds and mouthpieces feel different to each player, so experimentation is critical.
• Consider reaching out to reed companies and asking for samples for your students. Sometimes
these companies will send out representatives to come and teach reed skills to your students.