How Often Should I Change My Reed? The Maggots in the Mouthpiece Story…

change reeds

CC BY-SA by APMus

So you’ve learned how to assemble a reed properly, assemble your instrument perfectly and have been starting to play your first notes. Hopefully, your teacher told you to change the reed by ALWAYS taking it off the mouthpiece after every time you play. But do you?

Sometimes, beginning woodwind performers don’t take the reed off and change reeds because they are afraid they can’t assemble it perfectly again. The solution for that is to keep practicing putting on and taking off the reed until it’s like 2nd nature. Watch my video on Reed Assembly for Saxophones and Clarinets for 2 ways to put the reed onto a mouthpiece.

Another reason beginners keep the reed on is because the screws for the ligature are either too tight to move and they can’t take the reed off, or the ligature does not fit properly and their teacher was just barely able to get the reed to stay on. These are totally understandable reasons for a couple of days, but in these situations, the student needs to bring the mouthpiece and ligature back to the music store and exchange the ligature for one that fits.  Don’t leave the store until YOU can tighten and loosen the ligature properly while the reed is on the mouthpiece.

Here’s a few reasons why you need to change reeds and wipe off the excess moisture before storing it in your reed case:

  1. If the reed stays on the mouthpiece for an extended time, the tip will warp (look wavy), affecting your tone quality and ease of producing sound.
  2. Your reed will not last as long. If you store it in a good reed case, you will be able to play on it longer.  I recommend the Rico Multi Instrument Reed Vitalizer Case that stores 8 reeds (saxes and clarinets) and has a Reed Vitalizer Pack that keeps the reeds at a good humidity level.  VanDoren also makes a similar reed case called the Hygro Reed Case. You can find both of these at the Woodwind and Brasswind site. You can use the individual reed cases that come with the reeds, as long as the reeds are exposed to air and lie flat so they don’t warp. (Rico Royal and VanDoren reeds have decent individual reed cases in their packs of reeds.) **UPDATE – I now also recommend ReedJuvinate, a reed storage system that makes reeds last longer and keeps them germ-free.
  3. If you keep the reed on the mouthpiece and don’t wipe off the excess moisture, over time, you will start to see mold growing on your reed!

Now, if number three doesn’t make you sick enough, here’s a true story told to me from a colleague of mine in another district.

An 8th grade clarinet student was getting a bizarre sound every time she played. The teacher checked the clarinet, but everything was in order.

The reed was a bunch of strange colors though.  (Side note – when your reed starts turning all shades of green, pink (not from lipstick), and black, it’s way past time to change that reed!)

He asked the student when was the last time the reed was changed. Her reply, after an initial blank stare, was she didn’t realize she had to.

Usually students start their instruments in 4th grade. (I can’t imagine she didn’t change the reed in all those years because it would have chipped long before then, but it had to have been on that mouthpiece for a substantially long time.)

The Band Director took the reed off and noticed little white bugs moving around inside the mouthpiece – they were maggots!

This student was playing on a moldy reed with maggots in the mouthpiece for God knows how long.

You can only imagine the strange illnesses she must have had over the years. (Hope you weren’t eating while reading this story! ?)

So, the bottom line is TAKE YOUR REED OFF AFTER EVERY TIME YOU PLAY!

Action Steps:

  1. If you are still having difficulty assembling your reed, please watch my video on Reed Assembly for Saxophones and Clarinets on my site, located under the Solutions to Common Performance Problems menu.
  2. If the reason why you haven’t changed the reed is because the ligature doesn’t fit properly, you are not alone. Every year, I have 3-5 students with faulty ligatures that do not even fit the clarinet and saxophone mouthpieces properly.  Go right back to the music store and get them to exchange the ligature. Again, don’t leave the store until YOU know the reed will stay on the mouthpiece. The store wants to keep your business and not sell you items that are defective, so this should not be a problem.
  3. For now, you can use the individual reed cases that come with each reed, or you can get a cheap reed holder that holds 2-4 reeds at a time, but you may want to look into the Rico and Van Doren Reed cases when you start to practice a lot more.
  4. I strongly recommend getting a reed-storage system like ReedJuvinate, which safely stores the reeds, makes them last longer because of the built-in humidity, and keep them germ-free. (For a limited time, you can get a 10% discount when you sign up for my Weekly Newsletter right here.)
  5. Do you have a story to tell about changing reeds? Please write it in the Comments section below…
  6. If you enjoyed this article, please Like it and share it on your social networks, and  Sign up on my website for more weekly newsletters with tips and information.

Next time, I want to talk about why a reed rotation system is so important.

‘Til then, have a great week!

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Comments

  1. Mark Peotter says

    That maggot story was so disgusting! Anyway, after reading the article, the answer to the question, “When should I throw away this reed?”, is not very clear. I usually tell my students that a typical cane reed will stay “in good playability” for only about 8 hours of playing time. If you live in a climate with humidity between 45% to 60%, you can increase those hours. Other indicators that the reed is ready to throw away are: 1. Waviness that does not flatten out after soaking the reed. 2. If , while playing the reed, it develops a “frown” curve. Meaning, the left and right edges curl down slightly when looking at it straight on (while it is on your mouthpiece). You will be suffering with random squeaks. 3. You can no longer hear the crisp beginning of short, tongued notes. 4. When you detect a sudden silence during your diminuendos. Meaning, you have plenty of breath remaining, but as you get quiet, the sound stops altogether. 5. It is getting difficult to play in tune. The reed is so flexible that you can’t bring the pitch up – Or, it is so flexible, and you are bringing the pitch up too high all the time. This last one requires more discernment.

    • Thanks for your comment, Mark. All true points.
      The intent of the article is to remind students to NOT store their reed on the mouthpiece, and the true story
      will help them remember to do so.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Woodwind’s worst nightmare: In a word? MAGGOTS. Moral of the story? Change your reed! (Get a free one here while supplies last.) Thanks to Donna Schwartz for this important public service announcement. […]

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