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Playing in a new reed:


For a clarinettist to find that perfect reed which plays exactly how he wants it to sound and plays the music just as he has in his imagination is not a myth and shouldn't remain a dream. It's just a question of careful preparation.
Generally you start off by choosing a few favourite clarinet reeds out of the new box. Once you have a selection of five to ten reeds you can begin to work.
image: clarinet reed tip wet
A careful maintenance of your clarinet reed starts with a well timed break in process. You should never play in a new reed for more than five to ten minutes. Once you can see that the tip of the reed has absorbed moisture you should give it a chance to calm down and to breathe dry air. If you change it, the fibres can close their ends and the cane will keep its flexible qualities for a longer time.
 
After the first three or four days, new clarinet reeds already show the first signs of change and it is perhaps necessary to make one or two alterations. (See also changes in climate usually have the following effects...).
 
After three or four days the best reeds, usually about two or three from your narrowed down selection, will stand out. If you handle them carefully and treat them well, they will be reliable favourites for a long time.
 

Adjusting clarinet reeds, recommended alterations and remedies step-by-step:

Clarinet reeds are made of cane, which is a natural material. As such, it is constantly changing according to air pressure or atmospheric humidity. Professional soloists and orchestral clarinettists have observed from experience that reeds are stronger at high altitude than at sea level. They also lose their strength in warm, humid air compared to in cold and dry climates.
Apart from occasionally reflecting to adjust your clarinet reed according to your personal preferences you may consider remedies due to an uncomfortable playing condition of your reed. Especially while playing in new reeds, some advice for a quick help is very much appreciated. With only reasonable effort and a little practise and instruction every clarinetist, who is interested in material questions, should be skilled enough to successfully help himself.
 
image: clarinet reed, bottom side swollen
Changes in climate usually have the following effects:
The bottom side of the reed swells at right angles to the grain. This makes the reed speak less easily and makes it more difficult to control flexibility in timbre and dynamics.
 

Smoothing the bottom side of a clarinet reed

is a fundamental requirement in order to fully assess which will be the next step in your reed adjusting process. So this should be our first step. Bend the tip of the reed back a little bit on a flat surface (opposite to the face of the mouthpiece).
If there are any swellings at the bottom, correct them by smoothing them on a grindstone. (Available from us at foglietta).
image: bent reed tip
image: clarinet reeds remedy on grindstone
Place three fingers at the bottom of your wet reed to move it on the stone. Make small movements to and fro along the line of the fibres.

If your reed sticks up

or it seems to be too stiff, place your three fingers a little more towards the shaped bit, whilst smoothing the reed. In case your

clarinet reed tends to lie too close on the mouthpiece

or tends to lack tension, try to hold it more towards the end of the bottom during this procedure. You may also use a sheet of abrasive paper (grain size 280 or 400) put on level glass plate. In this case your reed needs to be totally dry and the reed tip must not be wavy!
 
image: clarinet reed in reed trimmer

Clarinet reeds occasionally might squeak when playing staccato:

Push the reed tip a tiny fraction of a millimeter beyond the tip of your mouthpiece. Try to find a balance between ease of playing and a reed getting too hard. If you achieved an improvement by doing this do not hesitate to take a reed trimmer (have a look at our accessories) and shorten the reed tip by cutting the required amount.
By doing this the tip of the reed gains more stability from its central part, but be careful, the reed becomes harder and stiffer if you cut too much off.
 

When reeds do not respond easily or the sound is fuzzy

perhaps you need to check the tip. From changes in humidity or from normal use, reed tips tend to get thicker and stiffer. The air can no longer stream properly along the surface when playing and this may cause a worse response or a fuzzy noise accompanying your pianissimo. Such a reed produces a noisy chattering sound while playing forte and it keeps you from varying your dynamics flexibly.
image: clarinet reed tip sharpening
To solve this, use a small pie of sandpaper (grain size 400) wrapped around your fingertip, and sharpen the top one or two millimetres of the reed. Place the reed on a flat glass surface and move your finger five or ten times from the glass onto the tip using a small circular motion and without pressing too much. Be careful not to let the sandpaper get between the fibres or to slit the tip of the reed as this would completely ruin it. After sanding about 5 to 10 times, your reed should speak much more easily.
 

Reeds that vibrate one-sidedly

may be made of a piece of cane grown with an unequal density of fibres at one side of the reed compared to the other. This can be easily controlled - a stable embouchure is a pre-requisit - by turning the instrument once to the right and once to the left alternately. Turning your clarinet a little bit to the right means you try the left side of your reed and vice versa. The side that is harder to play is too dense and you will have to take out some cane.
image: clarinet reed on fixingstick
image: equalizing a clarinet reed
A very useful tool in this work are some tubes of winter horsetail or a needle file cut 3 (available accessories from Foglietta). Please take care that you start to work from the back of the shape towards the tip. It is also most important that you do not touch either side, or the centre line of your reed. This could change the reed's character and it could lose its sonority. So just make two or three movements to and fro with your file between the middle and the chosen side (the right side in our example given on the photo), then lift it off and repeat this step three or four times. Avoid using too much pressure with your file on the reed's surface and keep pausing in order to control the effects of your correction.
By doing this on both sides of the reed you can also cure an

unpleasant vibrating of the lower notes

in each register (such as low e, f or also b and c in the upper register). Please always keep in mind that stability which has been taken out of the reed can never be put back again, so you should preferably play your reed twice rather than using the file once too often!
 
By following these steps your clarinet reed
will have a long and happy life.

 
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