Deciding on the right reed can seem overwhelming in a store or website where there are dozens if not hundreds of different styles, brands, cuts, and strengths to choose from.
This guide is designed for students or parents of students who are looking for a helping hand in choosing an appropriate reed.
Remember, nothing is ever set in stone and not everyone will find that these suggestions work for them, but we’ve created this guide based on the input of over 100 full time band directors.
What’s in a Number?
Let’s start by learning what the number in a reed means. The number represents how hard or soft a reed will be. The lower the number the softer the reed, the higher the number the harder the reed. The number is a guide and the actual strength of any particular number will vary from brand to brand. Some brands, such as LaVoz, forgo the numbering system and instead state “Soft, Medium Soft, Medium Hard, Hard,” and so on.
Most beginning students will start on a number two Rico reed (Clarinet or Alto Saxophone). Some educators will prefer a student start on a one and a half, others suggest starting on a two and a half, but a number two is always a safe bet for someone who has never played.
Generally speaking, the softer the reed the easier it is to produce a sound on the instrument. The harder the reed, the sound will be more difficult to produce, but the quality of the sound is improved. A #1.5 reed is very soft, and although a sound will quickly be produced, we don’t suggest starting at this level unless you are really struggling with a #2 Rico reed.
Brands, Brands and More Brands
The traditional Rico reed (in an unmistakable orange box) is the most popular student reed in the world. Rico produces a consistent, quality reed that will satisfy the needs of any student musician and is approved by just about every professional educator.
Vandoren Traditional reeds (which come in a blue box) are generally recommended for advanced students. The reason for this is Vandoren is generally a more consistent grade of cane overall, and the reeds are generally more consistent from reed to reed. However, Vandoren Traditional reeds are quite a bit more expensive than your standard Rico reed.
Simply put, 90% of student musicians will use a Rico reed or a Vandoren Traditional Reed. Once you approach music from a professional stand point all guides can go out the window – everyone has their own preferences and recommendations. Our best advice is once you feel you’ve outgrown your Rico or Vandoren reeds, it’s time to start shopping around and trying different things to see what suits you and your style of music best.
Also, remember to try several reeds from a box before making a choice, even expensive and boutique reeds will vary slightly from reed to reed in the same box.