"You are only as good as your reeds…"
I always tell my students this key phrase so that they know how important it is to practice and perform on a reed that has the proper resistance. For me, a “good reed” is one that has the correct resistance for the individual player. Having the appropriate resistance in a reed promotes great air support, which is the key to having a wonderful sound, easy articulation and large dynamic range. But often times teachers demand that their students develop terrific air support without having first examined if their student’s reed is too hard or too soft. Air support and tone improvements are dependent on having the correct strength of reed for the individual player. When a reed is too hard/resistant, the student will force their air production in an unnatural and uncomfortable manner. Instead of just using the diaphragm muscles, the added resistance will cause many other systems of the body to strain to produce airflow which will result in producing tension in the shoulders, upper torso, and throat. This extra strain and tension transfers into the mouth where the embouchure bites down on the mouthpiece and reed- making the airflow into the clarinet even more restricted. It’s a vicious circle that then makes the player force even more! On the opposite end of the spectrum, a very light/soft reed will enable, the student to produce a sound easily, yet improperly by puffing the cheeks instead of engaging the diaphragm muscles. The sound will be thin and shrill. The light reed will also allow the player to have a very weak and poorly shaped embouchure that lacks the strength to focus the air into a beautiful and rich sound. The perfect strength reed is one that allows the student to blow with slight resistance and zero strain. This perfect combination of resistance and response allows proper development of embouchure and diaphragm muscles. As these muscles develop, a harder reed may be necessary. It is important for a teacher to help the student find the right strength reed for their level of playing. This will really allow rapid improvements and a rewarding experience of playing the clarinet.