Welcome to the world of single reed instruments! Most commonly, a single reed instrument refers to a Clarinet or a Saxophone. If you’re just starting out – or if you’re an advanced player – you’ve come to the right place to begin your journey. In the video above and through this article, Bridger will take you through one of the most important processes of single reed instruments – picking your reed strength.
What is a reed and why is it important?
An instrument reed is a small, curved piece of wood or synthetic material that vibrates when a stream of air is applied to it. As you increase the thickness of the reed, more air is required to get it to vibrate. This forces you to use more air, using proper technique, to achieve a certain sound from your instrument. Reeds come in a variety of “strengths” or “sizes”, most commonly from a size 1.5 and up to a size 4.5.
If you’re just starting out with single reed instruments, we recommend a 2 or 2.5. A size 1.5 doesn’t offer enough core or richness that musicians want out of their instrument, while a 2 or a 2.5 is a nice sweet spot for a beginner. They aren’t too thick to make it difficult to play, and they provide a nice sound right at the start. For an example of reed sizes compared with sounds, check the video above at timestamp 2:20, or click here.
As you work your way up through the sizes, you develop muscles around your mouth that will enable you to provide more air into the instrument. Doing so with a thicker reed will give you a richer sound with more core and body, making it sound better. Giving more air to a thinner reed may cause it to squeak and giving too much pressure could cause it to not even produce a sound at all!
What reed should I be using?
As the muscles in your mouth develop, you’ll be able to move up in reed size like we talked about above. But just because you can move up in size doesn’t always mean you should. Bridger, our presenter in the video above, personally uses a size 3.5 with his Clarinet. As you work your way up, you’ll find a spot that you personally like best – it will be the best combination of sound and ease of use. You may work up to a size 4.5 and decide that you don’t like it nearly as much as a size 4, and that’s ok. Find the reed strength that works best for you, and use it! Below are a few links to Vandoren (our preferred brand) reeds in different strengths and instruments.
All in all, the process of creating music should be fun. You’re a musician, and that word should never make you feel anything but excitement at the prospect of making beautiful art. Finding what works for you is the most important part of this whole process, because what works for you is what will make it exciting.
Thanks for reading.