The Skinny on Reeds

Reeds. Some of you are already screaming in horror. Volumes have been written on selecting, adjusting and caring for reeds. There are volumes written on making your own. Let’s do away with some misinformation and provide a few quick tips.

Myth Busters

Myth #1: “The better you get, the harder the reed you’ll play!” Nope. I’ve been blowing into the end of a clarinet for 45 years, and I’ve worked my way down in strength from a 4-1/2 to a 2-1/2. It all depends on the mouthpiece, the sound you desire and your own musculature.

Myth #2: “The pros pick out all the good reeds at the factory, and they box up the rest for us!” Hardly. Think about it: If a company doesn’t supply you with the best product they can, they won’t be in business for very long.

MYTH #3: “The cane just isn’t as good as it used to be!” Actually, I find that reeds are better and more consistent than ever. Advances in the precision machines that cut the cane and the packaging that resists warpage have improved. I find I can use most of the reeds in a box.


Here are some quick tips to remember when purchasing and maintaining reeds:

1. Buy the Whole Box. The first time you open a new box of reeds, sit down and play each reed for a few minutes, then place them in a reed holder to allow them to dry flat.

2. Rotate Them. Use three or four reeds during each practice or rehearsal. This’ll allow you to have options when it comes time for a performance or audition. Also, new reeds can become waterlogged if played too long at one time and lose their responsiveness. If you play on that “one good reed” until it’s dead, the next one will seem too stiff.

3. Keep ’Em Clean. Don’t wipe off the reed with your thumb when you take it out of your mouth. Rinse them off periodically in water or hydrogen peroxide, and dry them on a flat surface.

About author

James Snyder

Jim Snyder has been the busiest jazz clarinetist of the last 30 years, performing in clubs, concert halls and jazz festivals in the United States and abroad. Jim played for many years in New Orleans, where he was also a member of trumpet virtuoso Al Hirt’s band. He is regularly featured as a guest artist in concerts and recordings and is a staff musician for the Walt Disney Company. His solo CD, “Coliseum Square,” was released on the Apple Jazz label. For more information about Jim, visit

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