When is the right time to replace clarinet reeds?

Clarinet reeds are considered the most important piece of the clarinet as they determine sound production and quality. The best reed for a clarinet is one that keeps you wanting to practice and perform at all times. If your reed doesn’t do that, then it may be time for a replacement.

Nearly all woodwind instruments, including the clarinet, have reeds in them. Because it is a core unit in the clarinet, you should know how to choose the best one for your clarinet, how to maintain it and how to replace the reed on your clarinet when the need arises, are important skills that you need to learn if you want to maintain the durability, optimum performance and reliability of your clarinet. That being said, let us go over the clarinet reed replacement and maintenance process.

But first, when is the right time to replace your clarinet reeds? The general rule of thumb is that you should replace your reed after every 2 to 4 weeks, no matter how often you play the clarinet. If you practice for several hours every day, then you may need to replace the reeds more frequently, say after every 1-2 weeks.

How do you know whether you need a new reed?

The table below outlines whether or not it is time for you to replace your clarinet reeds. In addition to that, it highlights everything you need to regularly look out for when it comes to handling the reeds of your clarinet.

Important Questions to Ask Yourself What to look out for Rationale Commentary
Are there any damages on your reed? Check whether the tip of your reed is chipped or whether there are any cracks, warps or damages on the clarinet reed Generally, clarinet reeds vibrate at a high frequency, so they are likely to chip off, crack or get damage faster than other parts of the clarinet Instead of using glue to hold a cracked reed together, consider using a synthetic reed, which is much easier to play and requires less maintenance
Can you notice mold on the reed? Check whether you can notice black mold growing on the clarinet reeds As time goes by, the bacteria in your mouth somewhat causes mold to grow and this can make you sick in the long run While scraping the mold off using a utility knife may be a quick fix, remnants of the mold may remain and continue to grow over time. That said, you would rather soak your reed in water before playing and before storage
How is the sound quality? Is it deteriorating? If you find yourself struggling so much to play through songs that were easier to play at first or if you cannot reach the upper notes properly, then the reed is probably disfunctional Poor sound quality is a side-effect of playing with old reeds Remove the reeds from your clarinet and check whether it is wearing out
Does the ligature fit properly? Sometimes the ligature may be faulty or may not fit correctly into the mouthpiece, hence affects the functionality of the reed The ligature should be tight enough to stop the wandering of the reed and mouthpiece, but not too tight to stop the reed from vibrating Go back to the music store and get a replacement. Ensure to test it when at the store to confirm its functionality and reliability levels

How long do clarinet reeds last?

If you are just starting out, you need to know the shelf life of clarinet reeds so that you can replace them in good time. In general, good quality reeds can last up to 6 months if you play the clarinet occasionally and maintain it regularly. However, if you play and practice more frequently, the clarinet reed cycle can last between 2 and 4 weeks.

As you continue to play, you should look out for the factors we mentioned in the table above so that you can know when the best time to replace your clarinet reeds is. Along with that, there are times when you may have to change or replace your clarinet reeds depending on the weather. This is mostly because some clarinet reeds perform much better in colder environments, while others work better in warmer environments. Also, you may need to replace a clarinet reed if it doesn’t support your embouchure and playing comfort. In this case, you may need to evaluate whether a lighter or harder reed works better for you.

How to maintain clarinet reeds so that they can last

Once you find the perfect clarinet reed that works for you, it is important to care for it well so that it can last you as long as you need it to. Remember, clarinet reeds aren’t designed to last forever. However, they can last a decently long time as long as you take proper care of them. To do this, you should;

  • Ensure that you store your clarinet reeds in a waterproof case that protects them from exposure to moisture and temperature fluctuations. Excess moisture causes a mold buildup and sometimes causes it to bulge and break. Temperature fluctuations, on the other hand, cause the clarinet reeds to become warped or broken.
  • Remember you have to break in a new reed. In this case, you should not play for more than ten minutes at a time when getting started. Doing this prolongs the shelf life of your reed.
  • After playing, rinse your clarinet reed under warm running water then wipe the reed dry. When doing this, try to remove excess moisture from the reed for best results.
  • If possible, avoid using the same reed every time you practice playing the clarinet. Rotating reeds is a very important maintenance practice because clarinet reeds tend to wear down faster with prolonged playing. So, you can keep track of how long you have been using a particular reed by writing down the date you begin using the reed. This way, you are assured of durability and reliability of your clarinet reeds over a prolonged period of time.
  • If the reeds do not fit well or need a few adjustments, you can use utility knives and sandpaper to customize them to meet your personal needs and preferences. Be as careful as possible when doing this to avoid damaging the reed.
  • Consider polishing and flattening your clarinet reeds to extend their life and do not leave the reed in the mouthpiece because it may become warped after time.

Final Thoughts

When you purchase a new reed, you would be impressed by its sound quality, functionality, and reliability levels. However, as time goes by, you will have to get rid of the most robust clarinet reeds with the best sound quality. Along with that, you should always remember that even if you are the most skilled clarinetist, a chipped reed, an old one, or one that does not fit properly will automatically distort the sound quality and playability of your clarinet. Luckily, the replacement process is very easy and will get you back on track in good time.


Why does my clarinet reed turn black?

The black effect that you see on your clarinet reed is mold. Whenever you notice the black effect, it is time to get rid of the reed.

Do I need to break in my clarinet reed?

Yes, you do. To do this, soak it in lukewarm water for 1-3 minutes depending on its texture. Once you thoroughly break into your reed, it should last between 1-6 months.

Charlotte Moore is a Clarinetist by profession and has over time offered lessons on how to play the clarinet among other musical instruments. And while a majority of clarinet players are well versed with the process of settling with a good clarinet among other accompanying features. There is little information about clarinets. The reason why Charlotte prepared comprehensive experts touching on the various facets of the clarinet. The consolidated information will offer more insight on everything clarinets including the best stand to use, and the best plastic clarinet that you can invest in, among other information. Charlotte Moore is a devoted mother of two and a professional clarinet player.

Leave a Comment