Selecting a Reed for Your Clarinet

By David Etheridge

Part of Clarinet For Dummies Cheat Sheet

When shopping for clarinet reeds, you may get the feeling that you’re playing a numbers game. A reed’s hardness (or stiffness) is ranked by numbers ranging from 1.5 (soft) to 5 (hard). However, hardness is only one factor, and not the most important one at that. The cane of the reed, the player’s level, the mouthpiece, and reed thickness are all important factors.

When selecting a reed, consider the following:

  • Cane: Even more important than a reed’s hardness is the cane it’s cut from. Ultimately, reeds are just like wine. Exquisite wine starts with exquisite grapes. The most vibrant, longest-lasting reeds start with excellent cane.

  • Player level/age: Beginners and young players may not be able to blow hard enough to make a hard reed vibrate, so they may want to start with a softer reed — 3.0 hardness or less (4 or higher is considered hard).

  • Mouthpiece tip opening: Mouthpiece facings with close tip openings require harder reeds because softer reeds close on them too easily. Very open mouthpieces, like those preferred by doublers, can use softer reeds.

  • Thickness: Reeds are manufactured from three sizes of blanks: traditional thickness, thick, and very thick. The thicker the reed blank, the harder the reed is to close with lip pressure.