Reeds are a huge part of a woodwind’s sound and tone, making it important to find the perfect one (which is where I may be of help)!
What are they?
Reeds are the piece of wood that lies between the mouthpiece and ligature (or lie next to each other on a double-reed instrument). When blowing on the mouthpiece, the reed vibrates which ultimately creates the sound of the instrument. The tone of the instrument can be changed by a combination of the strength and brand of the reed…
Generally speaking, the higher the reed strength, the more ‘puff’ is needed to create a sound, due to them being thicker. Beginners tend to start with a 1 or 1½ as it is easier to play. Gradually, you will be able to strengthen the reeds needed and ultimately be able to create a much ‘richer’ tone.
When learning a new instrument such as the clarinet and saxophone, your cheek muscles are not used to working and sustaining an embouchure. Playing woodwind requires a lot of stamina. Using a weaker reed to begin with will begin to strengthen these muscles and improve stamina required to play stronger reeds in the future.
Here at Normans, we sell a range of brands including Rico, Rico Royal and Vandoren. Slightly thinner reads include Rico and Vandoren Juno which are typically an easier style to play. Therefore great for beginners. Alternatively, Rico Royal and Vandoren are slightly thicker and often used when players are more advanced.
These reeds are relatively new and are designed solely for beginners. This makes them easier to play and able to progress to higher strengths quicker.
Rico reeds are unfiled and have a thinner vamp cut. Confusing as it may sound, it makes the reed easier to play so is great for beginners. They are also great for multiple styles of playing, be it classical or jazz. It is a great all-rounder reed which can be carried out into your advanced playing.
Rico Royals are very similar to Rico. The main difference is these are filed (Ricos are unfiled). This means they are slightly better quality and thicker, thus making them popular to musicians but also being higher in price.
Vandoren are generally for more advanced players as they are much thicker, similar to Rico Royals. They create a much richer tone than the previous brands, making them very popular worldwide.
If you are a learner, you may not realise that reeds are fairly delicate. They are very thin pieces of wood and can break with only a brush on the carpet (which I have learnt through many broken reeds). There are a few ways you can try and stop this from happening;
The main way I would advise is by keeping the mouthpiece cover on whilst not using the instrument (which come with the instrument but we also sell separately if they become damaged or lost). These life-saving products keep the reed safe in and out of the case, and will also protect the mouthpiece if its dropped.
We can all be clumsy at times.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to keep the reed on the mouthpiece, we offer guards that can hold multiple reeds at a time. They will protect your reeds from damage and are great if you have more than one on the go; You may like the sound of a specific reed and want to save it for a performance.
Which is best for you?
Ultimately, choosing the right beginner reed for you depends on two things. How advanced you are at playing reed instruments and the sound quality you would like.
To begin with, you may need to sacrifice a richer sounding tone and play on a weaker reed. Such as the Rico 1½ which is what I personally started using on clarinet in primary school. This weaker reed is great whilst you are adjusting to the embouchure and improving your stamina. These reeds are sold in boxes of 3 which is perfect if you are trying out different styles and don’t want to commit to a big box. You can then work up the strengths and adventure onto different brands, such as Vandoren, and find a tone that suits your personal style.