When teaching clarinet and saxophone lesson, I am often asked about what kind of reed the student should have for their instrument. If you are a clarinet or saxophone player, you know the importance of having a reed that works well for you. Having the right thickness of reed can make the difference between struggling to get a decent sound out or playing smoothly. As your playing abilities improve, the type and thickness of reed you use may change, as the type of reed you use can directly affect your playing, since the vibration of the reed is what makes the sound in these woodwind instruments.
Clarinet and saxophone reeds come in different strengths. All are numbered in degree from 1 - 5. Generally speaking, the higher the number, the thicker the reed and the less resistance to vibration the player gets when blowing. Beginner players will typically use a reed strength of 2 or 2.5, depending on the brand. There are several reed-making companies; however, some of the most popular include Rico, Rico Royal, and Vandoren.
It is important to take proper care of your instrument and reed. Before attaching the reed to the mouthpiece, the saxophone and clarinet player usually sucks on the reed for a minute to get it moist. A good reed can last several months or longer, if cared for properly. However, if the reed becomes chipped, cracked, or suddenly difficult to play, it is time to replace it. Additionally, if the player finds the reeds are wearing out quickly, it may be time to go to a higher strength because more experienced players use higher strength reeds as their embouchure (mouth muscles) develop.