How to develop your musical ear?October 31, 2023
Behind the Reeds – Episode 4 – Interview Marc CharpentierNovember 2, 2023
Reeds are traditionally made from cane
Clarinet and saxophone reeds are traditionally made from cane, a natural material that provides unique acoustic and playing properties. Synthetic reeds have also been on the market since the 1960s, with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Reeds require maintenance
Reeds must be looked after properly to ensure long life and good sound quality. This means storing them correctly, moistening or rehydrating them, depending on climatic conditions.
Different brands of reeds have different characteristics
Reed manufacturers use a variety of selection and production methods, developing their own reed profiles, resulting in differences in tone, strength and durability.
Lip moisture helps preserve reeds
Lip moisture plays no role in reed preservation. What is important is to maintain correct moisture in reeds when they are stored, to prevent them from drying out or warping.
The thicker the reed, the better the sound
Sound depends on many factors, including the quality of the reed and the player's technique. A good quality reed that matches your playing style is more important than its thickness.
The quest for a universal reed
So many factors influence the choice of a reed: the musician's level, the adaptation of the reed to the mouthpiece opening, the playing style, the reed/mouthpiece/ligature interface, the musician's morphology and ability to blow into the instrument. In reality, a reed that could satisfy all these requirements would be a mediocre reed that would not meet the specific needs of each musician.
A reed cut from a thicker cane is stronger than a reed cut from a thinner cane: Myth.
The strength of a reed is determined by several parameters:
- the thickness of the cane measured at the heel of the reed (the non-beveled part)
- the structure of the cane itself (intrinsic variability of the material)
- the profile of the reed (in particular the thickness of the reed core and tip).
Here we'll look at the first point, i.e. the thickness of the reed at the heel.
The thinner the cane from which the reed is cut, the closer its profile is to the bark. Bear in mind that the cane is denser next to the bark, since the bark is naturally composed of lots of sclerenchyma cells, which are very hard and dense. So a reed cut from a thin cane (assuming the other two parameters remain the same) will tend to provide a stronger reed.
By way of contrast, let's take a reed cut from a thicker cane.
The reed is beveled deeper into the cane wall. Here, the reed's density decreases, as it contains a high volume of parenchyma cells and fibers, as well as hollow channels for sap circulation. The reed will tend to be weaker than if it had been cut from a thinner-walled cane.
Note : the longitudinal canals allow sap to circulate while the cane is alive. They become a hollow space once the cane is exposed to the sun, but will prove to be very hydrophilic (they’re very keen to fill up again with water or saliva!). This is why a reed is so sensitive to ambient humidity.