Buying reeds for a clarinet is not the
most simple of decisions. There are many different manufacturers of
clarinet reeds, each with a different method of grading and cutting
their products. While it is simple to assume that any old clarinet
reed will do the job, it is important to know some specifics about
the clarinetist before buying the cheapest box of reeds on the shelf.
All manufacturers of clarinet reeds
grade their reeds based on the relative hardness or rigidness of the
reed. The higher the number on the reed, the stiffer the reed is and
thus, the more difficult it is to get it to vibrate correctly when
fitted on the mouthpiece. Beginning clarinet players often start on
#2 or #2 1/2 reeds, the softest reeds that are commonly available in
music stores. As the clarinetist improves and develops their facial
muscles, a band director will often move the clarinetist to a harder
reed. By the end of the first year of playing most clarinetists will
be able to play well on at least a #2 ½ reed, possibly even a
#3. By high school most clarinetists will be asked to use #3 reeds,
with more advanced players using #3 ½ or even #4 clarinet
Most clarinet reeds are made of a thick
woody breed of grass known as cane. In order for the reed to play
properly it must be wet, hence the reason most clarinet players will
put the reed in their mouth for a few minutes before putting it on
their mouthpiece. Some manufacturers also make reeds from a
synthetic material similar to plastic. Sold under the brand names
such as Fibracell or Legere, these synthetic reeds have the
flexibility of cane reeds without the need to soak them. They are
used primarily by musicians who play on more than one instrument and
by clarinetists who play outdoors. Synthetic reeds also tend to be
more uniform in quality than cane reeds (see Buy The Whole Box
below). Synthetic reeds tend to be much more expensive that
traditional cane reeds but also last longer when properly cared for.
Professional clarinetists will profess
to the fact that out of a box of twenty reeds you will almost always
have a few bad ones. Cane reeds are essentially made of wood, and
the cane from different plants will have different properties.
Whenever possible buy a full box of reeds. Not only will it let you
pick through the box to find the best ones but it will also make sure
that you have an extra reed when you need it.
Cheaper is not always better, however depending on the ability level of the student you may wish to purchase cheaper reeds. Beginners break a lot of reeds, and less expensive brands such as Rico work well since young clarinet students go through so many of them. More advanced players may also do well with Rico reeds, but more expensive brands such as Mitchell Lurie or Rico Royal are often a better choice as the student progresses.
Rico Select Reserve are a great professional series reed. I am personally a Vandoren play myself on sax and I still prefer blue box Vandoren on Sax, but the Rico Reserve are great on clarinet. I would suggest that reed to your high school players, 3 3 1/2 seem to be great for most players.