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Reed Care for Clarinet & Saxophone Players

An open navy blue reed case has 4 reeds inside it, with a clarinet placed behind it.

Have you just started playing clarinet or saxophone?  Here are 8 basic reed care tips, which will not only help you play better, but can also help prolong the life of your reeds and save you money.

What are reeds made of and how do they work?

Tall, feathery Arundo Donax plant with setting sun behind it.

Reeds are made of cane (Arundo Donax), which is a plant similar to bamboo. As you blow air into the instrument, they vibrate against the mouthpiece to create the sound, so it's important to use a reed that is not warped, chipped, or cracked. If you follow these tips, one reed should last you between 40 and 60 playing hours.

Tip 1: Take care when fixing your reed to your mouthpiece.

When placing the reed on the mouthpiece, place the ligature on the mouthpiece first, lift up the ligature slightly, and then slide the reed down behind it. This will prevent damage to the reed.

Tip 2: Break Your Reeds In.

This means playing a new reed for only a short time on the first day, about 5 -10 minutes; then, gradually increasing the duration of playing time each day. After about a week, the reed should be broken in and will be ready to be played for long periods of time. It is best to start breaking in new reeds before your current reed stops working.

Tip 3: Have multiple reeds ready for use at all times.

This means if you break a reed just before a lesson or concert you will have another one you can use. For beginners, having 3 - 4 good reeds on hand is ideal.

Tip 4: Rotate through your reeds.

Not playing the same reed every single day will increase their lifespan. This can be helped by following tip 5.

Tip 5: Store reeds in a reed case.

This keeps them protected and helps prevent warping. You can even get humidity-controlled cases for optimum storage as reeds prefer a stable environment (such as this one from D'Addario). Numbering inside the cases can also help you keep track of which reeds have been broken in and are in good playing condition.

Tip 6: Handle reeds with care.

Be careful when putting your reeds on the mouthpiece or back in their cases so that you do not accidentally chip them. Once a reed is chipped, it is no longer usable.

Tip 7: Wipe off your lip gloss or lip balm before playing

Lip products negatively affect the reeds response.

Tip 8: Avoid eating or drinking sugary drinks just prior to playing.

Food and sugary drinks are not good for the reed, mouthpiece, or the rest of the instrument!

Following these steps will keep your reeds in good playing condition for longer. 

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