Reed strength is a very crucial factor when playing an instrument. It is what creates the required vibration for producing sound from the woodwind instruments. Hence, it is very important to choose the right strength depending on your level and your need.
The reed strength is generally shown in the form of a number. But how do you decide which you should choose? How does it make a difference? We are here to answer all these questions.
Type of material
Usually, the reeds are constructed from a kind of thick grass which grows mainly in the south of France and locations that include similar type of climates. The reeds constitute of synthetic materials. However, more artists who play the instrument prefer the natural reeds when it comes to the quality of tone produced.
This is mostly because reeds are specific to instruments and the mouthpiece of each instrument differs from one another. For instance, the reed you use with an alto saxophone is not possible to be used with a clarinet.
There is a persisting misconception that the strength of the reed relies on the size. It is completely false and risky. This is because, when buying a reed, you need to ask yourself what strength do you require, and if you are relying the answer on size, you will end up making the wrong pick.
The strength of the reed rather lies on the density as well as the flexibility of it. You will find the single reeds being labeled with numbers between 1 and 5 (inclusive) in intervals of half sizes. In this case, 1 is referred to being the softer end and 5 the harder end.
On the other hand, when talking about double reeds, which find their use in oboe, bassoon and horn, you will find the strengths labeled as soft, medium-soft, medium, hard and medium-hard. Furthermore, the manufacturer also plays an important role in determining which reed is stronger.
When you are in the first-year of your music career or rather a beginner, your trainers will generally recommend you to use a 2 to 2.5 reed. These belong to the soft or medium soft category. This is because, anything harder can make it difficult for you to produce a melodious sound at that stage. Anything softer will make the sound weaker as well.
Once, over the sessions of practice, your mouth muscles get stronger, you can change to a reed that is stiffer. This will help make the quality of the tone better, besides improving the intonations, mostly for the high notes. Your teacher or trainer will be the best person to advice you when you are ready for this switch.
It is important to be aware that the manufacturing brand has a direct effect on the performance of the reed, as well as its strength. Moreover, the style of music which you will play will also make a difference to the strength of the reed.
Filed and Unfiled
It is good to be aware that some reeds come filed while some are unfiled. According to D’ Addario, who is a famous manufacturer of reed, a proper explanation of this can be provided as follows-
The filed reed is mostly according to the preference of the players who are used to playing using traditional, somewhat resistant, hard-sounding mouthpieces. This is because, this file will allow more free movement or blowing into the mouth pieces.
On the other hand, for the musicians who are used to playing somewhat easy to blow, moderate and bright mouthpieces, as relevant to the jazz or pop sax mouthpieces, an unfiled reed is what makes more sense.
There is something called the French File. It is shortened as file, and referred o the cut area on the back of the vamp, which provides the convenience of response, making the pressures on the mouthpieces softer and easier. The tone also turns brighter, even when using with resistant organs.
There are several manufacturer of reed and the strength will differ, as mentioned before, according to who the brand is. Some common names are Rico, Rico Royal, Vandoren, etc. Among these, Rico happens to be the most inexpensive options, and also quite popular amidst the school trainees and children.
They come in a box of 10, which serves as a good value for the money you pay. Rico Royal reeds are much better in terms of the quality and durability. Hence, they are more common and suited for advanced beginners or intermediate musicians.
As you might, by now, already expect, Vandoren reeds cost the highest among the 3, and hence, also, produce top-notch quality tone. They are usually the preference of professional players and advanced trainees.
The durability of a reed is really dependent on how well you take care of it. It needs to be handled quite sensitively and dried delicately after use. You cannot put an exact timestamp on its longevity. Some can last months and years, while some will serve you only for a few days.
It all comes down to the cane’s organic properties. Sometimes, some schools start with plastic reeds for the youngest children. Though the tone production is highly inferior to the cane reeds, but they can at least last long enough for the children to make a good start easily.
Now you are well-aware about the ins and outs of reeds. They are pretty individual and specific to instruments as well as the player. It is often suggested that you try a few of the sample reeds, as well as few different brands, to find out which suits you most and gives you maximum comfort. This calls for a few trials and errors. But better try, and be safe than sorry. You can take a look at our guide and start with the number suggested for your level.