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Woodwind Reeds - What Does the Number Mean ?

Your child has just been told by the band director that he/she is going to play the clarinet or saxophone.  In addition to renting or purchasing an instrument for your child, there are accessories needed for the instrument as well.  One of those essentials is a small, flat piece of wood called a reed.  This reed, when attached to the instrument, vibrates when your child blows through the instrument – thus producing a sound.

You will soon find out that reeds do not last very long.  In fact, your child may go through several in the first few weeks as he/she gains control of the instrument.  This is normal and will settle down as your child gains more experience.  However, reeds generally do not last more than three or four weeks when taken care of, and many times they will break, crack or just fail before then.  Sometimes you will even find a “bad” reed in a box that will not play satisfactorily at all.  This is the normal part of playing a reed instrument and is not an area of concern.

So, now it is time to go to the music store or the internet to buy reeds.  Just like anything else, there are many different brands at just as many different prices.  Then there are these numbers on the reeds:  2, 2 ½, 3, 3 ½ ………  Many students think that this indicates the size of the reed, however all clarinet reeds are the same size. Saxophones reeds are larger than clarinet reeds, but are the same size for that instrument.  If those numbers do not indicate size, then what do they mean?  The number stamped on the reed indicates its strength or “stiffness”.  Lower number reeds (1 ½, 2, etc) are “softer” and easier to blow.  These reeds are good for students who are just beginning to play their instrument.  As the student becomes more experienced, he/she will graduate to the next strength reed.  This usually takes place once every year or so of playing as it takes work to get used to the new strength.  Why should a more advanced student change to a stiffer reed?  Because softer reeds do not support the higher sounds learned later.  The softer reeds are easier to blow, but do not have enough “substance” to support a professional quality sound, especially in the upper register (the higher notes).

Now, if it were only that simple………but that is only part of the story.  Different brands of reeds have different systems for determining the strength of the reed.  One brand’s “3” might be another brand’s “4”.  So, what do you do?  Well, here is a simple comparison chart from the manufacturer of Rico Reeds that helps you compare systems and arrive at the best reed choice for your child.  Click on this link: Reed Comparison Chart for Clarinet and Saxophone   Most beginning band students will use the basic Rico or LaVoz reeds for the first year or two.  Then they will branch out into other brands and find one that suits them best.

It is important to follow your band director’s advice about the strength of reed recommended for your beginning student.  Different directors have differing philosophies as to how strong a reed a beginner should use.  Some may say use a “2” and others a “3”.  One philosophy is not better than the other, just a different way of approaching teaching reed instruments.  It is very important to follow the preferences of your band director.

You can now purchase reeds with confidence!

Reed Purchasing Made Easy Here

If you have tried to purchase reeds online, you may find it fairly difficult to actually find the reed for your instrument and the brand you want.  They only sell by the box on the internet.  You would have to go to the music store to purchase individual reeds and many have stopped doing that as well.  Keep in mind, though, it is much cheaper to purchase reeds by the box, rather than individually and you will always need more as these are considered disposable items. One place for ordering reeds online is the 1 Stop Clarinet and Sax Shop. Make sure to select the right reed strength for the drop down menu before placing your order.