Clarinet Reeds

Clarinet Reeds: What They’re Made Of and Why It Matters

Clarinet reeds are an essential component of the clarinet that significantly affects the sound quality produced by the instrument. The reed is responsible for producing the vibrations that create sound waves, which are then amplified by the clarinet’s body. A good quality reed can produce a rich, full-bodied tone, while a poor quality reed can result in a thin, weak sound.

Clarinet reeds are typically made from a type of grass called Arundo donax, also known as cane reed. This grass is native to the Mediterranean region and is harvested, dried, and processed to make reeds. Cane reeds have been the traditional choice for clarinetists for many years due to their natural sound and responsiveness.

However, synthetic reeds made from materials such as plastic and carbon fiber have gained popularity in recent years due to their consistency and durability.

The material used to make a clarinet reed plays a crucial role in determining its strength and durability.

The strength of a reed refers to how hard or soft it is, which affects how easily it vibrates and produces sound. Reed strength is measured on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being the softest and 5 being the hardest. Choosing the right reed strength is important for achieving the desired tone and sound quality.

What Are Clarinet Reeds Made Of

A clarinet reed is a thin, flat piece of material that is attached to the mouthpiece of the clarinet. The reed vibrates when air is blown through it, producing sound. Clarinet reeds can be made from a variety of materials, including natural and synthetic materials.

Natural Reed Materials

The most common material used to make clarinet reeds is arundo donax, a type of reed grass that grows in the Mediterranean. Arundo donax is harvested, dried, and then cut into flat, rectangular pieces. These pieces are then planed down and polished to create the final reed product. Other natural materials that have been used to make clarinet reeds in the past include wood, paper, and even bamboo.

Synthetic Reed Materials

In recent years, synthetic materials have become more popular for making clarinet reeds. Synthetic reeds are made from materials such as plastic and carbon fiber. They are appreciated for their consistency and durability, as they do not need to be moistened prior to playing. Some synthetic reeds are even made from a combination of natural and synthetic materials.

While natural reeds are still the most commonly used material for clarinet reeds, synthetic reeds are becoming more popular in Western classical music. It ultimately comes down to the player’s preference when choosing between natural and synthetic reeds. Factors to consider when selecting a reed include the size and strength of the reed, as well as the player’s personal playing style and sound preferences.

Reed Strengths and Cuts

When selecting a clarinet reed, it is important to consider the strength and cut of the reed. The strength of a reed refers to its thickness and hardness. Reed strength is measured on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the softest and 5 being the hardest.

Reed Strengths

Softer reeds are easier to play and produce a brighter sound, but they may be more prone to pitch variations. Harder reeds require more effort to play but produce a fuller, darker tone. The choice of reed strength ultimately depends on the player’s preferences and skill level.

Beginners may find it easier to start with a softer reed, such as a strength 2 or 2.5, while more experienced players may prefer a harder reed, such as a strength 3 or 3.5.

Reed Cuts

Reeds also come in different cuts, which affect the way the reed vibrates and produces sound. The two main types of cuts are regular and French file.

Regular cut reeds are typically used on clarinets with mouthpieces that produce a naturally bright sound. They have a thinner tip and produce a brighter tone.

French file cut reeds have a thicker tip and produce a darker tone. They are often used on clarinets with mouthpieces that produce a darker sound.

Ultimately, the choice of reed strength and cut depends on the individual player’s preferences and the specific sound they are looking to achieve. It is recommended to experiment with different strengths and cuts to find the best fit for your playing style and instrument.

Choosing the Best Clarinet Reed

Choosing the best clarinet reed can be a daunting task, especially for beginners. It is important to consider the strength of the reed, the brand, and the material it is made of. Here are some tips to help you choose the best clarinet reed for your needs.

Clarinet Reed Brands

There are many brands of clarinet reeds on the market, but some of the most popular brands include Vandoren, Rico, and D’Addario. Vandoren is a well-known brand that produces high-quality reeds for all levels of players. Rico reeds are also popular among clarinetists, and they are often recommended for beginners. D’Addario is another popular brand that produces high-quality reeds made from foreign cane plantations.

When choosing a brand, it is important to consider your skill level and the type of music you will be playing. Some brands may be better suited for jazz or classical music, while others may be better for beginners or advanced players.

Strength of the Clarinet Reed

The strength of the clarinet reed is another important factor to consider when choosing a reed. Clarinet reeds are typically sold according to strength, with a range of 1-5. The higher the number, the stronger the reed. Beginners typically start with a strength of 1.5 or 2, while more advanced players may use a strength of 3 or higher.

It is important to choose a reed that matches your skill level and playing style. A reed that is too soft may be difficult to play, while a reed that is too hard may produce a harsh sound.

Best Clarinet Reed Brands

When it comes to the best clarinet reed brands, Vandoren and Rico are often considered some of the best on the market. Vandoren produces a variety of reeds, including the V21 and 56 rue Lepic reeds, which are popular among intermediate and advanced players. Rico reeds are also popular among players of all levels, and they are known for their consistency and durability.

Other top clarinet reed brands include D’Addario, Gonzalez, and Legere. It is important to try out different brands and strengths to find the best reed for your playing style and needs.

Maintaining Your Clarinet Reeds

Proper maintenance is essential to extend the life of your clarinet reeds. Taking good care of your reeds will ensure that they remain reliable and produce the best sound quality possible. Here are some tips for maintaining your clarinet reeds:

Breaking in Your Reeds

Before using a new reed, it is important to break it in properly. This process involves gradually playing on the reed for short periods of time over several days until it is fully responsive. To break in your reed:

  • Soak the reed in water for several minutes before playing on it.
  • Begin by playing on the reed for only a few minutes at a time, gradually increasing the playing time over several days.
  • Be patient and avoid playing too hard, as this can damage the reed.

Storing Your Reeds

Proper storage is important to keep your clarinet reeds in good condition. Here are some tips for storing your reeds:

  • Do not store your reeds in the plastic sleeves they come in, as this can cause the reeds to warp and mold over time.
  • Instead, use a reed case with a humidity control system to keep your reeds at the proper moisture level.
  • Store your reeds in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and extreme temperature changes.

By following these tips, you can ensure that your clarinet reeds remain in good condition and produce the best sound possible. Remember to break in your reeds gradually and store them properly to extend their lifespan.

Improving Your Clarinet Tone

Improving your clarinet tone can be a challenging task, but with the right techniques and equipment, it can be achieved. The mouthpiece and reed combination are two essential components that affect the tone quality of the clarinet. Additionally, adjusting the reed strength can also have a significant impact on the sound produced.

Mouthpiece and Reed Combination

The mouthpiece and reed combination is one of the most critical factors that affect clarinet tone quality. The mouthpiece is responsible for producing the sound, while the reed is responsible for controlling the sound’s quality. A player must find the right combination of mouthpiece and reed to achieve the desired tone quality.

When selecting a mouthpiece, a player should consider the type of clarinet they are playing, as well as their playing style. For example, saxophone players who are transitioning to the clarinet may prefer a mouthpiece that produces a brighter tone. On the other hand, players who prefer a darker tone may opt for a mouthpiece with a larger chamber.

Reed strength is another crucial factor to consider when selecting a mouthpiece and reed combination. If the reed is too hard, it can cause resistance, making it difficult to produce a clear and consistent tone. On the other hand, if the reed is too soft, it can produce a thin and weak sound. A player must experiment with different reed strengths to find the right combination that produces the desired tone quality.

Adjusting Reed Strength

Adjusting the reed strength is another technique that can be used to improve clarinet tone quality. A player can adjust the reed’s strength by scraping the reed’s tip or the area near the vamp. Scraping the tip can make the reed softer, while scraping the area near the vamp can make the reed harder.

It is important to note that adjusting the reed’s strength can be a challenging task, and it requires practice and patience. A player should start by making small adjustments and gradually increase the amount of scraping until they achieve the desired tone quality.

Overall, improving clarinet tone quality requires a combination of techniques and equipment. By selecting the right mouthpiece and reed combination and adjusting the reed strength, a player can achieve a clear and consistent tone.


Clarinet reeds are a crucial component of the clarinet, and the type of reed used can greatly impact the sound quality and intonation of the instrument. The most common material used for clarinet reeds is cane, specifically Arundo Donax, which is a Mediterranean reed grass. Synthetic reeds made from plastic and carbon fiber are also becoming increasingly popular due to their consistency and durability.

Clarinet reeds are used in a variety of musical genres, including pop, jazz, rock, classical music, and country. The tempo of the music being played can also impact the choice of reed, as well as the preferences of the individual clarinetist.

It is important for clarinetists to properly care for their reeds in order to maintain their sound quality and longevity. This includes proper storage and handling, as well as sanding the reed to adjust its intonation.

Science has played a role in the development of new reeds, with companies using advanced technology to create synthetic reeds that mimic the sound of traditional cane reeds. However, many clarinetists still prefer the sound of natural cane reeds.

Overall, the choice of clarinet reed is a personal preference for each individual player. It is important to experiment with different types and strengths of reeds to find the best fit for one’s playing style and sound quality goals.

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