Learning to live and grow …with reeds

To: sherman@clarinet.cc
Sent: Monday, December 10, 2007 9:52 PM
Subject: Clarinet Corner Query:
Hello. Just to give background, I am a junior in high school, have made the all-state band and currently perform in a college group. I have been steadily progressing to the point where I feel prepared to showcase my ability, and am looking into Eastman, Julliard, etc. However, I have suddenly, within the last two weeks, encountered a problem. Every single reed (with the exception of 2-3) that I have used from 3 different boxes has been way too soft. I am using a size 4 vandoren, but the tone is not the rounded, full and dark sound that I usually achieve, and the altissimo is barely comming out. Harder reeds that I have tried are more successful. Should I buy a size 4.5 or 5? Or do you think that it is my mouthpiece? I am slowly getting very frustrated!
Thank you,
E.H.
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Hello E.H.:
First, as to the matter of reeds, do not throw any away. Put all those soft reeds in a box with others you have cast aside. You will try them again after a while. Most players do this and have various systems of how to arrange them, perhaps a mark for soft or hard or green. You will find after a week or so, these reeds will all change, and most probably you will find a few that will play better than before.
It is about average to find only two or three Van Doren reeds from a box which play directly “out-of-the-box”, so to speak. I had this experience many times when I was a young student.
Remember that you are in the process of learning, right at present you are learning the frustration of choosing reeds which will perform for you, and even more importantly, how to make reeds work for you.
But, you are also in the process of learning to play the instrument. Very frequently during this process, as you improve, you will find that the reeds seem to get more and more unplayable. It could be that as you improve, you are hearing better, discerning more and therefore you are becoming more particular. I am sure that this is part of your problem. You are improving and bad reeds ,reeds getting worse is all a part of it.
Now, there are many things you can do: first, try a different so-called quality reed, one that may be cut similarly to the VD such as Gonzalez FOF, or even Zonda, which I feel are made from a better source of cane than is Van Doren, which I no longer use.
The thicker cut may be attractive to you and give you a better response. I have found this to be true.
I have used FOF Gonzalez , 3.5 to very good success, Zonda as well, and even Rico thick cut concert reeds can be excellent.
Just do not revert to a thin-hearted reed, as the ordinary rico or Mithell Lurie, which are definitely too thin.
After a bit, go back to Van Doren, and you will discover that some may have improved.
This is all part of the process of discernment all clarinetists experience. It is a part of learning and becoming a more mature player.
Good Luck, Sherman Friedland

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