Clarinet reed – The reed is the sound-making mechanism of the clarinet. It influences so many aspects of the sound of the clarinet, yet it is one of the hardest parts to understand.
The clarinet is a single reed instrument. This means that it uses one reed that vibrates against the mouthpiece to make sound. The reed is made from a plant called Arundo donax, which is grown and cured in a controlled environment especially for clarinet reeds. The ligature holds the reed onto the mouthpiece. It is a metal device that wraps around the mouthpiece. It usually has two screws and can tighten and loosen the reeds contact with the mouthpiece.
Parts of the Reed
Styles of cut reeds can vary, but the basic parts of the reed remain the same. The tip is the edge of the reed at the thinnest part. The butt is the edge on the thickest part of the reed.
The vamp is the cut part of the reed. A good vamp should be creamy colored or whitish with no discolorations. The uncut part of the reed is called the bark, and it should be more yellow and shiny. If either the vamp or the bark have any hint of green, this means that the reed has been harvested too early. It will not be a good reed and should be thrown out.
Clarinet reeds come in strengths one through five. Different reed makers may have slightly different ideas of measurements of reed thickness. The universal rule is the thicker the vamp and tip, the higher the number. This means that higher numbered reeds will be harder and lower numbered reeds will be softer.
Which One Is For Me
A beginner student who has never played a reed instrument will probably want to start on a reed between 1 ½ and 2 ½. The student will eventually work up to a 3 or 3 ½ once his or her embouchure muscles, the muscles used to play, develop.
A woodwind student switching from another instrument, however, should probably try out different reeds to figure out the best reed for them.
Testing a Reed
The best reed for a clarinetist will respond well with both short (staccato) sounds and long (legato) sounds. It will produce a rich clarinet tone in all dynamic levels and ranges of the instrument.
The beginner student will develop a clear concept of what a good reed is as his or her playing progresses. Beginners are very inconsistent in their playing, and labeling reed quality with inconsistency in sound can be hard. However, as clarinet students progress, so will their understanding and preference for good, quality reeds.