Category Archives: Clarinet

Clarinet Tip #1: Breaking in a Reed

I played quite a lot of Clarinet when I was young, and wasn’t too bad at it. Then I stopped; for about 20 years. Then I started again. I found that I’d forgotten lots. Even worse, I discovered that there was a lot basic stuff that I should have learned, but hadn’t.

So thought I’d share a few of the things I should have learned when I started, but didn’t; until now.

How to Break in a Reed

  1. Take a few reeds out of their packets
  2. Place them in a glass of water so that they stick to the edge of the glass for a few minutes
  3. Take them out and place on a super flat, smooth surface. Really smooth glass is perfect, but you could probably make do with something hard and smooth and clean.
  4. Massage the reed from the heel to the near the tip with light forward strokes of your bare finger for at least a minute.
  5. Repeat several times over a few days.

Why do it this way?

Using water instead of saliva means the reed has less harmful deposits and the acidic saliva doesn’t damage the reed.

Massaging the reed breaks off fine hair fibres and bends other over close to the reed surface. It also smoothes down pithy sections (spongy bits) bulging out from between the fibres and helps close the pores so that the reed becomes less waterlogged. It also assists breaking in the reed, making it quicker to get to a playing state that just playing it.

I’ve had pretty good success with breaking in reeds by doing this. It seems more reliable than what I used to do, which was put the reed in my mouth and use saliva to wet it lots before playing it.

There are lots more techniques used in the reed breaking-in process, but this method is pretty easy and doesn’t need any special equipment. I haven’t gone to the extent of purchasing Dutch Rush, sandpaper, or other equipment.

This technique comes from a small part of the chapter on Reeds in “The Art of Clarinet Playing” by Keith Stein.