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Reed Buyers Guide

What is a Reed? 

Reeds are essential to playing most woodwind instruments. Reeds, typically made from cane, allow the instrument to produce sound when blowing air into the reed. In the case of a single reed, the reed vibrates against the mouthpiece when blowing air into the instrument. For a double reed, the reeds vibrate against each other when blowing air into the instrument. 
 
Reeds are traditionally made out of cane, but synthetic versions made out of different materials have also become increasingly more popular.  
 
For an instrument that uses a single reed such as an alto saxophone or clarinet, a ligature secures the reed to the mouthpiece, which holds it in place so that the instrument can be played. For oboes and bassoons, you use a double reed, which does not require the use of a mouthpiece or ligature.  
 
A reed can and will wear out. The typical lifespan of a reed is about a month, depending on care and frequency of use. 

Types of Reeds

DSC05097 webThere are two main types of reeds: 
 

Single reeds, which are used on clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone and baritone saxophone 

Double reeds, which are used on oboes, English horns and bassoons 

 

How are Reeds Made? 

The production process of reeds is proprietary to each manufacturer. In general, cane plants are grown to the manufacturer's specifications and then harvested. With the harvested cane plants, the manufacturer will create blanks, measure the blanks for flexibility, and then shape them to what the flexibility could be in order to create the varying strengths. Reed strength is not determined by how thick the material is, but rather, the resistance of the material. 
 
Traditional reeds are created differently from synthetic reeds and with different materials than traditional reeds.  

How do I Care for my Reeds? 

Reed lifespan can vary, and depends on length and frequency of usage, the brand of the reed and the style of playing. Poor break-in and improper storage can decrease their lifespan even further. 
 
DSC00102 webA tip to prolong the life of your reeds is to rotate through a few reeds. To do this, rotate through breaking in reeds, and make sure to store them in a reed guard or a reed case. This keeps reeds protected from damage while not in use, and also keeps them together in one place. We recommend you number the spaces on the reed guard so you know which order to rotate your reeds in.  
 
Remember that reeds are very delicate and can break. It is important to avoid touching the tip of the reed when applying it to the instrument to keep it from chipping or splintering.  
 
For best use, break in your reed gradually, and increase play time slowly over a period of a few days, when possible. When not in use, keep your reeds in a humidity-controlled environment. 

 

How do I Pick my Reeds? 

There are a few factors that make up the process of picking the right reed for your playing style. 
 
The first step is to determine what kind of instrument you play. Does that instrument require a single reed or a double reed?  
 

Which Strength Reed Should I Use? 

Reeds come in different strengths. The strength of a reed dictates the resistance of the reed, or how easily the reed vibrates, not how easy it is to break them or how thick the material is. Depending on the brand and type of the reed, the strengths can be displayed using a numerical system or words.  
 
Typical numerical strengths: 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4 
 
Typical word strengths: soft, medium soft, medium, medium hard, hard 
 
There is no correct strength for every person and it depends on many factors including: 
 
  • The type of instrument you’re playing
  • Your mouthpiece
  • Your ligature
  • How much air you put into the instrument
  • The strength of your embouchure 
 
The key to finding the right reed strength is to find the reed that compliments your playing style. This can sometimes take a little bit of trial and error, but your teacher or director should be able to make a recommendation on a strength to start at. It is important to note that the strength of a reed isn’t dictated by how experienced the player is.  
 
If you currently have reeds that you play on, consider if it feels soft or hard when you play. If a reed is too soft, there will be intonation issues, especially when playing higher notes. Another key indicator that a reed may be too soft could be feeling incapable of producing an even bigger sound when already playing loudly. If a reed is too hard, it will make the instrument difficult to play and your stamina will deplete quickly. You may also experience an unclear sound across all notes, if your reed is too hard. The music enthusiasts at Heid Music, as well as your director, are happy to assist you with finding the correct reed strength for your playing style. 
 
A well-suited reed strength will allow you to have full control of your low notes, and you’ll be able to easily produce high notes. When changing reed strength, you will notice it will also change the sound of the instrument. 
 

How to set up your reed 

single vs double webBefore playing, a reed must be moistened for proper response with the instrument or mouthpiece. We recommend allowing a reed to briefly soak in a reed cup before playing, or setting the reed in your mouth for a moment. Both methods allow the reed to absorb moisture in preparation for producing sound.
 
For double reeds, if placing in a reed cup, be sure that the cup is not filled past the height of the reed. Ideally, no more than ¾ of the reed would be submerged, making sure the strings do not get wet.  
 
For saxophones and clarinets, the flat side of reed is placed against the flat side of the mouthpiece and lined up. Then, the reed is secured into place using a ligature, being sure to align the top of the reed with the top of the mouthpiece. Once the ligature is secured, you will slide the mouthpiece on the instrument.  
 
On an oboe, bassoon, or English horn, after the reed is properly moistened, slide the reed into the proper position. 

Recommended beginner reeds:

Clarinet Reeds

Alto Saxophone

Tenor Saxophone

Oboe

Bassoon

At Heid Music we are passionate about helping you produce your best sound, and would love to help you find the best reed for you. If you don’t see your instrument listed above, or you’re an intermediate or professional player, we would love to talk about your playing style and goals in order to find the right fit for you. 
 

Synthetic Reeds 

Venn Reed Illustration for webSynthetic reeds are made to mimic the performance of a cane reed, but they don't require moistening before use or a break in period. Synthetic reeds are also more resistant to damage than a traditional cane reed, but this does not make them indestructible. Synthetic reeds to not respond to temperature and humidity like a cane reed does, allowing for more consistent playing in varying environments. Synthetic reeds are available for alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, soprano saxophone, B flat clarinet and bass clarinet. Venn Reed pic Web Ready
 
The strengths of a synthetic reed are numerical, and increase in half sizes. We recommend consulting this synthetic reed strength conversion chart when considering synthetic reeds. 
 
As always, Heid Music is here to help if there is any assistance needed with picking out the proper reed for an instrument. Stop in to one of the five locations across Wisconsin, email, text, or call. 
 
 
 

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