The clarinet is a reasonably new addition to the woodwind group of musical instruments. It’s most commonly believed that the clarinet was invented at the beginning of the eighteenth century by Johann Christoph Denner.
It’s assumed that Denner first birthed his creation in Nuremberg. His clarinet looked a little different from the clarinets we see today, however. Denner’s clarinet was supposedly made from boxwood and it had two keys that were made from brass.
Before this, the closest humans have got to inventing a clarinet was in ancient Egypt, where a similar instrument called a zummara was popular.
The name “clarinet” was originally translated as “small trumpet.” This is probably because the clarinet was praised for boasting rich sound quality at both low and high registers, which was a dramatic improvement from their closest equivalent, the chalumeau.
Unfortunately, it’s not every day that you hear of someone practicing the clarinet. They’re often overlooked by musical beginners, however, they’re an essential orchestral instrument.
If you’ve ever seen an episode of Spongebob Squarepants, you’ll probably be familiar with Squidward’s dreadful clarinet playing.
The appearance of the clarinet in a children's television show did wonders for the instruments’ popularity, even though the tentacled killjoy consistently played it off-key. There’s even a scene in one episode where Squidward begins to choke on the reed of his clarinet.
Although this is unlikely to happen, as it’s an absurd cartoon about sentient marine life, it’s better to be safe than sorry. To avoid any embarrassing mishaps, beginners must learn how to insert a reed correctly.
What is a reed in a clarinet?
A reed is a thin strip of material that vibrates to produce a sound on a musical instrument. Most woodwind instrument reeds are made from synthetic materials.
Tuned reeds, such as harmonicas and accordions, are made of metal or synthetics. Musical instruments are classified according to the type and number of reeds.
The clarinet uses a single reed made of one piece of wood, while the oboe and bassoon use a double reed made of two pieces joined together.
Just as with the stringed instruments, the smaller woodwinds play higher pitches while the longer and larger instruments play the lower notes.
How do I put a reed in a clarinet?
If you’re at the very beginning of your clarinet playing journey, you may be finding it tricky to place a reed perfectly on your clarinet mouthpiece.
Clarinet novices tend to struggle the most with this and incorrect placement of a reed can cause breakages or lessen the sound quality.
The sooner you learn to correctly insert a reed, the better. To master the chore of putting a reed on a clarinet, check out our step-by-step method below.
Step 1 - Locate your ligature
A ligature is a device that holds a reed onto the mouthpiece of a single-reed instrument such as a saxophone or clarinet. The ligature must secure the reed firmly against the table of the mouthpiece while allowing it to vibrate freely.
Ligatures can be constructed from a variety of different materials, from metal to leather. Metal ligatures are usually silver or chrome and can be tightened with two screws. Alternatively, leather ligatures are usually black and only have one screw.
While both work well on a clarinet, it’s important to note that they differ in quality. Metal ligatures are more cost-effective, however, they do tend to cause indentations on the reed and make it more difficult to adjust. Leather ligatures are a more popular choice.
This is probably because they’re unlikely to cause any indentations and can be adjusted and removed with ease. However, you get what you pay for with ligatures. Leather ligatures are far more costly and tend to only come with expensive instruments.
Step 2 - Choose a reed
Next, you’ll have to choose the right reed for you. The first step when choosing a reed should always be checking the color. If the reed has a green hue, it’s unlikely to play very well. Instead, try to look for a yellow or golden-brown reed.
It’s also a good idea at this stage to inspect your chosen reed for any damage, breakages, cracks or splits. Using your fingertip, assess the grain of the cane. You can do this by gently running your finger along it to check that the grain is all pointing in the same direction and that it feels smooth.
It probably goes without saying that you should ensure that your reed is suitable for your style of playing and that it’s the strength that you are used to. One reed does not fit all.
Step 3 - Wet your reed
If you’re researching online for information about how to insert your reed, you’ve probably come across some guides that instruct you to put your reed into your mouth to moisten this. Although this is common, it’s not recommended.
Human saliva has acidic properties that can deteriorate your reed. As it’s inevitable that saliva is going to find it’s way onto your reed as you play, it’s important to dry it regularly.
The best way to dry your reed while playing is to slide your finger along the length of your reed toward the point. Only ever use fresh, clean water to wet your reed.
Step 4 - Putting on the reed
Next, it’s time to secure your reed firmly to your clarinet. You should begin this by lining up the reed with the mouthpiece. The reed has two sides, one curved and one flat. Take the flat side of your reed and put it on to the clarinet and position it with the fatter end pointing downwards.
Then take the curved side of your reed and line it up with the curved side of the mouthpiece. You can hold it in place using your thumb. Ensure that it’s perfectly centered and you can see a tiny sliver of mouthpiece over the tip of the reed.
Step 5 - Securing the reed
Finally, slide the ligature down to about the bottom of the reed and tighten it using the screw or screws. Be sure not to tighten it too much, or your ligature is at risk of breaking.
Many reeds have a vibration line visible on them. We recommend that you try to get the top of the ligature below this line to allow the top of the reed the full range of vibration it requires.