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I play the clarinet at an intermediate-advanced level, and I have recently joined an orchestra. Our conductor wants all the woodwinds to switch to plastic reeds, since they are more audible in the presence of a great number of string instruments. I have done research on this, but could not find the answer to the current brand and strength I'm using.

I can currently play well on a Vandoren reed of strength 4. What would be the equivalent strength plastic reed? Any brand would work, since as of now, I am only experimenting how I best play.

Thank you for your time.

  • 5
    Tell the conductor to sit on his baton and rotate. That's the dumbest thing I've heard in ages, not to mention it's non of his business. What's next telling you what brand of ligature to use? – Carl Witthoft Dec 15 '14 at 15:46
  • I'm pretty both ligature and mouthpiece make a difference. – Edward Jiang Dec 16 '14 at 0:39
  • Edward, I played reeds, primarily clarinet, at a high nonprofessional level for over 15 years. – Carl Witthoft Dec 16 '14 at 2:51
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    I think Carl is making the point that a conductor should make recommendations to accomplished players toward improving the sound and balance ("more presence from the winds please!") but it's the job of the players to figure out how to implement the directions of the conductor ("hmm, maybe a stronger reed would facilitate projection of sound..."). I'm a clarinetist as well, with a degree in music education so I've sat in the players chair and wielded the conductors baton. At the beginner level, the conductor should give more specific instruction ("you need to replace that floppy, moldy reed!"). – mdwhatcott Dec 16 '14 at 4:10
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Much like the strengths of different brands wooden reeds, plastics reeds also vary - a number 3 is not always a number 3! You'll need to find an appropriate comparison chart (like below) for whichever brand of reed you choose to buy. (I'm not sure what's available in Canada, apologies.)

fibracell comparison chart

I have two Fibracell reeds, and haven't been especially impressed by either, but they've worked. If you do chose to go with them, I'd recommend going up a level rather than down. (So I'd try a 5.5, rather than a 5, if you normally play a Vandoren 4.)

Our conductor wants all the woodwinds to switch to plastic reeds, since they are more audible in the presence of a great number of string instruments

Uh - really? Potentially a more cutting sound, yes, but it should be more than possible to be 'audible' using a wooden reed. I'd always use a wooden reed for orchestral work - the tone is much more fitting than the sharper tone I tend to get out of a plastic reed. Maybe take that one up with him...

  • I don't care what brand I use, as I said in my question, but I can try a Fibracell. Thanks for the chart! It really helps me compare the strengths of different reed brands I use. – Edward Jiang Dec 14 '14 at 23:15
  • P.S. Sorry for taking you out of the "1234" rep thing. :P. – Edward Jiang Dec 14 '14 at 23:16
  • I'll get over it. ;) I was actually talking to another member about plastic reeds in chat the other day - he said he'd always heard good things about Legere reeds. (I've never tried them.) It might be worth asking around on the particular brand - unfortunately plastic reeds aren't cheap things to experiment with. =( – Chris Dec 14 '14 at 23:19
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I apologize for making this an answer, since I cannot comment due to lack of reputation. I was in various high-school and college orchestras back when I played clarinet (about 4-5 years ago now), so the information I have here for you may be outdated.

I tried Legere reeds when they first came out, and have also heard semi-good things about Fibracell.

Our conductor wants all the woodwinds to switch to plastic reeds, since they are more audible in the presence of a great number of string instruments.

From my personal experience, this is definitely not true in an average orchestra, and if this is truly a problem, the conductor should consider splitting the strings into multiple orchestras. Furthermore, a plastic reed can drastically change your intonation. I remember one problem I had with Legere was that my intonation was consistently flat.

All in all, stay with wooden reeds if you're in an orchestra. My two cents.

  • 1
    Thanks for the answer, and don't worry about it ;). What my conductor said was that we needed a particular timbre that was different than clarinets in, say, bands. I'll ask him tomorrow whether it's really necessary. – Edward Jiang Dec 15 '14 at 3:12
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Legere brand plastic reeds gave me an instant clean, focused and protective tone. It immediately increased my volume, thus being able to cut through the string section and be tangibly audible with a presence, clarity and force.

Your teacher was partially right, however, the reed is lacking somewhat human, deep, spiritual soulful expressions like the best wooden reed can produce.

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