For beginners, the recommended size is 2 or 2.5. For players who are children, a size 1 or 1.5 is recommended. As the player progresses, they can then increase the size of their reed.
Size in clarinet is indicated by a number system and these numbers often refer to the thickness of the reed and its strength. Reeds come in various strengths differing from one brand to another. Most manufacturers number their reeds in half strengths from one to five with 1 being the thinnest and the weakest reed and 5 being the thickest and strongest reed. Some brands, however, indicate their reed thickness size with the terms; soft, medium and hard. Although small, a clarinet reed is crucial in sound production and without one, playing the clarinet would not be possible. If you’re a beginner, this article would be a perfect guide to help you select your reed wisely so, continue reading.
Reeds that are best for beginner clarinettists
The best reed size for a beginner is from 1 to 2.5. For the brand, most music teachers recommend ones from Rico, Vandoren and Rico Royal. The size number on the reeds typically indicates the reed thickness so, the lower numbers represent softer reeds while higher numbers represent harder reeds. These numbers usually run from 1 to 5 for most brands and they are numbered in half, as in, 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5 and so on.
Thicker reeds or stronger reeds or higher-numbered reeds produce better and more direct tones, but they usually require more muscle strength to play, the strength that a beginner hasn’t garnered yet. It is therefore advised for a beginner to start with softer or lower-numbered reeds and then they can practice their way up to thicker reeds.
Also, when purchasing reeds, a beginner should be keen and ensure they buy reeds meant for their instrument since clarinet reeds are different from say, saxophone reeds. So, for instance, a Bb clarinet reed only fits in a Bb clarinet and no other instrument.
After gaining confidence and a bit more playing experience, a beginner can then start to experiment with different reed sizes and reed brands.
How to choose the best reed strength for a beginner
The strength of a reed is oftentimes shown by a number and beginner reeds are usually of lower strength, indicated by numbers between 1 and 2.5 or words like “soft” and “medium soft”. When talking about the strength of reeds we are also referring to the reeds’ thickness so, a thin reed is also the weaker reed. When choosing a reed, look at the numbers written on them. A lower number (usually between 1 and 2.5) is the best for a beginner.
The responsiveness and the tone produced by a clarinet are greatly affected by the strength of a reed. Thinner reeds are great for beginners as they vibrate easily, producing brighter tones. Thicker or stronger reeds, on the contrary, produce bolder direct tones but they require a lot of skill and strength to play.
Note that the strength of reeds varies from one brand to another that is why it is advised for a beginner to try out different brands to find out which one suits them the best.
Some clarinet players prefer the Rico brand as it is economical and great for young players. Other clarinettists prefer the Vandoren brand as these reeds are manufactured from high-quality canes and the tone they produce is more refined. However, they are more expensive compared to the Rico reeds. For beginners, it is advised they start with softer and more economical reeds.
Debunking the most common reed myth
Most beginner clarinet players believe that the thicker and stronger your reed is, the more advanced you are. Although it is true that most beginners only play the softer and thinner reeds, there are professionals who still play with the softer, thinner reeds despite their level of expertise.
The only reason why softer reeds are recommended for beginners is because the embouchure muscles of the majority of them are still forming. And the only reason why most pro clarinet players use thicker, stronger reeds is because their embouchure muscles have already developed and therefore, they can manage to play with them.
The myth that the thicker your reed is, the more advanced you are, is not completely true because it also fails to take into account the various mouthpieces existing. A beginner can use a thicker reed if their mouthpiece is more closed.
So, the reed size a player uses doesn’t automatically equate to their talent or ability. Advanced and talented clarinet players like Acker Bilk, Pete Fountain, and Benny Goodman were all known to use softer, thinner and weaker reeds.
The table below has summarized the differences between harder clarinet reeds and softer clarinet reeds.
|Harder clarinet reeds.||Softer clarinet reeds.|
|They are stronger and thicker thus producing a heavier, fuller and more direct tone or sound.||They are softer and thinner thus producing lighter and brighter tones and sounds.|
|They are easier to reach higher notes with.||They are harder to reach higher notes with.|
|They are more difficult to connect and play low pitches softly with.||They are easier to correct and play low pitches with.|
|Fast tonguing is a bit easier with them.||Fast tonguing is more difficult with them.|
A beginner is recommended to start with the softer, thinner reeds since they don’t need a lot of strength and embouchure muscles to manipulate. It is also advised to check the mouthpiece to know which reed will go with it perfectly. All in all, there’s no best reed for beginners since preference is subjective so exploration of various reeds is recommended.
What do clarinet reed numbers mean?
The numbers on clarinets usually refer to the strength or thickness size of the reed.
Which brand has the best reeds for beginners?
Although preference is subjective, Rico, Gonzales and Vandoren have the best beginner clarinet reeds.