There are many varieties and strengths of clarinet and saxophone reeds, so it is important to know what the appropriate reed is for you or your child. Reed strength is generally the same for all reeds–the higher the strength of reed, the thicker the reed is and therefore, the more resistant it is to play. In other words, this means you will need to blow harder through the instrument to create a sound. Strengths range from soft to hard, or in numbers from 1.5 all the way up to a 4 or 5. When beginning to play saxophone or clarinet (no matter the age), lower strength reeds are better because it will be significantly easier (less resistant) to produce a sound. As the student improves over time, the reed strength can be gradually increased–i.e. 1.5-2-2.5-3. Selecting the correct reed strength is imperative but it is important to note that the reed variety and brand will make a difference as well.
For beginning saxophone and clarinet players, I generally like to recommend Rico Orange Box reeds. Although the are not the best quality reeds, they are cheap and perfectly adequate for students during the first year of playing. At this level, the student will not notice a significant different between reed varieties. Similar to increasing reed strengths, students can gradually step-up to better quality reeds as they improve–usually about one year after beginning to play. Better quality reeds are made from a higher grade reed cane and will produce a nicer sound. Some examples of these reeds are Vandoren Blue Box and Rico Royal Reeds. Beyond that, top of the line reeds are cut to produce an optimized sound for specific styles of music. Vandoren and Rico make specific reed cuts for Jazz and Classical music. Some examples of these are Rico Reserve (Classical), Rico Jazz Select, Vandoren Java, Vandoren V16, and Vandoren ZZ reeds. For those of you thinking about switching between reeds, sometimes reed strength differs slightly between brands of reeds. Below is a reed comparison chart to help you compare other brands of reeds and find the appropriate size.
If you are confused about what might be the optimal reeds for you or your child, stop by the local music store and try a couple reeds before buying an entire box. As always, email me with any comments or questions. Happy reed hunting!