The Effect of Reed Strength on Clarinet Sound

The clarinet reed has an effect on the clarinetists playing experience. When discussing the strength of a reed, the clarinetist should concentrate on the sound produced and the degree of ease with which a reed responds. A clarinetist that uses a strong reed naturally can produce the same sound as a clarinetist that uses a weaker reed. There shouldn't be any competition to see who can play on the strongest reed. Find the reed that fits you comfortably and provides the best sound. Over time, you will find that your reed strength often changes.


There are several types of reed strengths ranging from one to five in increments of 0.5. You can use the reed strength as a starting point if you know what strength you normally play, but keep in mind that the actual strength varies between brands. The type of reed you must use depends on your ability, experience, and embouchure. The stronger reeds generally vibrate less and require an experienced player with a strong embouchure to play well. This does not mean that all professionals should play on a level 5 reed.


Stronger reeds produce weaker sounds with some players while producing a full sound for others. In this sense, it isn't the reed that determines the sound, but the individual characteristics of the performer. Clarinetists that play a reed which may be too strong for them will find that they have to bite down on the mouthpiece. In this sense, the strength of the reed can affect the sound since a strong reed can produce a stilted, thin sound if the clarinetist has to bite down too hard on the mouthpiece.


Tone production depends more on the actual player than the reed. However, depending on the characteristics of a player, there are some noticeable differences in tone and timbre when using a weak reed as opposed to a strong reed. Relatively speaking, a person who plays on a strong reed when he should play on a weak reed will get a harsh sound and may have trouble producing a sound at all. Conversely, clarinetists that play on reeds that are too weak for them will produce a dull, whispering sound prone to squeaking.


To play quick passages on the clarinet, the reed must respond appropriately. If the reed does not vibrate easily, then it will be difficult for the player to quickly change pitches, especially when moving over the break or when slurring from high to low pitches. Clarinets have a point in the range known as the break; this occurs when changing hand position with all of the keys down, to all of the keys open. The drastic change in resistance can create intonation problems. A clarinetist that uses an inappropriately weighted reed will have more difficulty with the break.


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