There are several commercial mouthpieces on the market which produce
decent sounds. Vandoren mouthpieces are generally good. For
novice players, the B45 will work, but more advanced students may prefer
something along the lines of a 5RV lyre or M13 lyre. There are
many other kinds of "custom" mouthpieces that can be bought
through mail order. Since any mouthpiece should be tried out before
purchase (if possible), it is very important to consult the private teacher
before buying one. Generally the mouthpieces that come with clarinets
from the instrument manufacturer are not very good. Even the best
quality clarinets do not have good quality mouthpieces with them at the
time of purchase. Whatever mouthpiece is used, it should be free
of scratches, nicks, and gouges, especially at the tip. The table
(where the reed goes) should also be perfectly flat and free from scratches
or gouges. One excellent, low cost (under $50) beginner mouthpiece
is the "Debut" model made by Clark Fobes in San Francisco.
Ligatures are a subject of much debate among clarinetists. Although there are
many different kinds of ligatures on the market, many players swear by
a certain brand or design and refuse to play with anything else. The
choice is almost overwhelming, and all claim to improve your sound in some
way. The price range also differs considerably from a regular "Bonade" ligature
around $11-$15, to ligatures that can cost $40 or more. Again, the best
choice is to consult with the private teacher before buying a ligature.
Ligatures do not affect the sound nearly as much as the mouthpiece does.
There are, however, small changes in tone color and reed response with
different ligatures. Generally, a regular Bonade ligature is very effective
and serves most students well.
Reeds are another matter of contention. There are many brands available, with
Rico and Vandoren two of the most popular. Zonda reeds from Argentina
are also becoming popular, and they seem to be quite consistent in strength
throughout the box. With reeds, many players subscribe to the belief "use
whatever works." One frequently asked question is "What strength
reeds should I play on?" The strength of the reed used is another
matter that should be decided on with the advice of the private teacher.
Reed strength selection is dependent upon the tip opening and facing of
the mouthpiece being used. A stronger reed is not necessarily better for
everyone. If the tip opening of the mouthpiece is quite open, a more flexible
(softer) reed should be used. If the tip opening is closed, a stronger
(harder) reed is needed. There is no "hero badge" for playing
a #5 reed and it will not necessarily improve the sound.
The reed must be treated very carefully. Always
watch for cracks or nicks in the reed that will affect its performance. The
reed and mouthpiece combination is the sound producing part of the
clarinet. If you start with a poor mouthpiece and cracked reed,
you are already putting yourself at a disadvantage. Therefore
there are two essentials for reed storage:
the reed flat
There are several commercial reed cases
available. One of the cheapest and what should be considered a "minimum
requirement" for all students is something along the lines of
the LaVoz ReedGard. This is a very simple and low-cost holder
carried by most music stores. It keeps the reed flat and protects the
tip. They generally hold two to four reeds. A
good habit to get into is the practice of "rotating" your
reeds. Never play on the same reed all the time. Have at least
four reeds that work, and rotate them regularly. If one of them
is particularly good, just play it every now and then and save it for
public performances. Use other reeds during practice sessions
and rehearsals. It is vital when using reeds that are broken in and
working, however, to open up some new boxes and start the breaking-in
process with new reeds. Although there are many different methods
and ideas for breaking in the reeds, don't play on new reeds for a
long period of time. The reed has been sitting in a box for a while,
and needs to be carefully handled at first. Play on new reeds
just a few minutes each day, slightly increasing the time daily for
a week or two. To an extent, more time spent breaking in the
reeds will result in longer reed life. Some
people like to polish their reeds on the top and bottom. This
can be done by simply rubbing the bottom of the reed on some high quality
letterhead paper that has a rougher texture to it. The top of
the reed can be polished by placing the reed on a flat surface and
using the same paper on the fingertip to rub the reed. Any polishing
should be done with the direction of the grain, not against it. There
are many ways to adjust reeds by means of sandpaper, reed rush, or
a reed knife. All of these things are difficult to describe,
and there is no "formula" for adjusting all reeds. The private
teacher can help with reed adjustment, and there are several books
on the subject.
are some things to remember about the mouthpiece, ligature and
- Always put the ligature
- Then slip the reed into
- Make sure the reed is "squarely" on
the table of the mouthpiece.
- Leave a thin crescent of "black" (the
mouthpiece) showing behind the reed when putting it on the mouthpiece
(i.e., the tip of the reed should be slightly lower than the tip
of the mouthpiece).
- Always tighten the ligature
on the "butt" part of the reed, never the "blade" part.
- Don't screw down the reed
too tightly. This keeps it from vibrating and keeps you from
getting a bigger and better sound.
- The reed is the last thing
to put on the clarinet when assembling and the first thing to take
off when packing up.