What kind of reed do I use? A beginners guide

Reeds are probably the frustrating part about playing both instrument, but we have to do it! There are too many reed variables for any beginner or parent to wrap their head around, so I’ve condensed this guide into 4 basic parts

1. Kind of reed (which instrument)

Most students start on “Bb clarinet” (pronounced “bee flat”) or Eb alto saxophone (“Eee flat). Make sure you get the appropriate kind of reed!

  • What other kinds of clarinets and saxophone are there? There are lots. It would be unusual to start on the next most common instruments in these families – Bb bass clarinet and Bb tenor saxophone – but not unheard of for teenagers or adults.

2. Brand

I recommend D’Addario orange box reeds (aka “Rico”) and Vandoren reeds traditional reeds (blue box) for both instruments.

  • What’s the difference? Vandoren are a premium option. Rico has other brands that are premium (the boxes are difference colors) and the orange box are of the lowest quality.
  • Frankly, I recommend the orange box to begin with since they are less expensive and easy to break.

3. Strength/number

I recommend children up to age 13 start on Rico 2.0 or Vandoren 1.5, and teenagers and adults start on Rico 2.5 or Vandoren 2.0.

  • What other sizes are there? Rico and Vandoren reeds come in half strengths ranging from 1 to 4
  • Are other brands okay to use? Absolutely.
  • Shouldn’t I start on a size 1.0? I don’t think it’s necessary

4. How many reeds to get

Get at least three reeds every time you buy reeds! They usually come in a box of 10 for Bb clarinet and Eb alto sax anyways.

  • Don’t you only use one at a time? Why get three reeds every time?
  1. They are really really easy to break.
  2. I say “at least three” because out of three, hopefully one will be a good one that feels just right. In other words, three reeds of the same brand and same size can feel different. So, by getting three you are hoping that at least one of them works well.
  3. Wait, what? Yes. I know, it seems like there should be a better option but it’s the life-long struggle of every clarinet and saxophone player. In a box of 10 I usually find 1-2 reeds that really suck, 3-4 reeds that are fine and 3-4 reeds that I really like.

And there you go! I know I left many questions unanswered… This should get any beginner started and happy for at least 2-3 years.

Happy practicing,


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