Reeds – Part 1 of 1000

“Hi. I’ve read your articles and I really think they are great; you have already helped solve most of my clarinet troubles. I’m 15, living in Israel, and playing the clarinet is the most enjoyable thing I do now on summer vacation. I practice quite alot (6-8 hrs a day) but during the past school year I didn’t have much time to practice since I’m in school until the evening almost every day. I’ve been playing for about 1.5 years now and I have a few questions:

First of all, would you say it’s better to practice say 2 hours everyday than 4 every other day? This is important to me since I have trouble finding spare time everyday.

My second question regards reeds: When do you know you need to replace your reed? Please don’t tell me “when it sounds bad” because a few days after I start using a reed it starts sounding worse; when do I know it’s “worse enough” to be replaced? What I do is replace the reed every time my clarinet starts squeaking or plays horribly (which happens sometimes once in a few days and sometimes once in about a week or two) and keep it, since sometimes when I try it again a few days later it’s OK.

I’m using Vandoren 2.5 and considering moving to 3, which leads me to my final question: How do I know I should start using harder reeds? I heard people say that when it takes you less than a certain amount of time to wear out a reed you should consider using stronger ones, but as I said, I’m not sure how long it takes me to wear out a reed and besides, it depends on the number of hours you play each day. This is very variable in my case. I don’t have trouble playing notes up to high G# which is the highest note I know (since it is the highest note I ever ran into), and I hope that a stronger reed would provide better tone quality. I have a excellent private teacher but since I wont be seeing him for a while I wanted to hear your opinion. Thanks a lot.”

You sound like a serious and committed student.

Practise every day. Do not let a day go by. If you are doing six to 8 hours a day, that is a good amount of time, maybe even more than you need to do. It may be the reason that every once in a while the reed and the clarinet do not sound well. Back off on the practise amount and keep it consistent. I would say that 2 to 3 hours ever day would be a very good amount of time. Of course, it is HOW you spend that time. But that is a whole other article. The question of how to practise is kind of a big issue.

On reeds, NEVER wait for the reed to wear out, to become squeaky or broken or even dirty. The thing to do is to play two or three or even four reeds and alternate them each day. The pitfalls of using the same reed are many. Your embouchure can “get married” to the reed. You will think, “Oh, what a great reed!”, and each day you will wonder about it. When it finally becomes unplayable, and believe me it will, you may have a very difficult time getting used to another reed. You may have a “reed panic”, the scourge of students. Never let yourself get into that difficulty. Start by getting a few reeds that are acceptable; mark them; play them a bit each day, as when they are new they will change daily. Some clarinetists work on reeds, you ought to try. Some make their own reeds. You ought to try that as well. It is not difficult and you will really love the reeds that you make. There is a machine for sale that acts like a key machine. It will actually copy the contours of the master reed. A LOT of symphony players use them to make their own reeds and the machine works. At least it’s something to think about.

I work on reeds all the time, getting them broken in, “curing” them, alternating them, sometimes working the roughness out of them. Use either extremely fine sandpaper or a reed called Dutch Rush. You get a few pieces in a box for a dollar or two. Wet it, flatten it, and you will find that you can take minuscule amounts of cane off and actually improve a reed. It will take time though. Use that time as practise time and NEVER work on more than three or four reeds at a time. NEVER try a whole box at one time. Two or three reeds that make you feel pretty well about their possibilities should be the limit. Your mouth will betray you if you do too many reeds. Ah, you are smiling because it has already happened a few times, right?

As to moving to harder reeds, that is a bunch of baloney. It never signifies improvement, a harder reed. Play a reed that gives you the range with the sound that you hear in your head, and stick with it. A medium reed is fine. The finest clarinetists I have ever heard play medium or medium light reeds, like Harold Wright, Larry Combs, etc., and even me.. The hard reed fiends get a very heavy dark sound. If that is what you want, go for it. But remember, HARDER is not necessarily better.

Thanks for your questions. I hope I have been a help.

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