Reed Care and Tips on Equipment Selection with Greg Raden of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra

Date Posted: May 04, 2016

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Transcription Updated July 16, 2020

Hi, my name is Greg Raden and I’m the Principal Clarinetist of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Prior to that, I was the Assistant Principal of the National Symphony and Principal Clarinetist of the Kennedy Center Opera and Charleston Symphony.

I’ve been playing Vandoren products for over 30 years. Currently, I play an M13 Lyre mouthpiece, the M|O gold ligature, and most often, the V•12 #3 ½+ reeds, (sometimes #4 or #3.5) and occasionally the Traditional blue box #3.5 as well. I’m a big fan of all of the Vandoren products and encourage my students and colleagues to try them and use them as well.

One of the things that’s really important to me, in choosing equipment, is to have a mouthpiece and reed combination where the focus and the center of the sound is already built in, so that I don’t have to manipulate the setup (by either biting, pushing too much, or holding on to keep the sound together). This is something that I particularly like about the M13 Lyre, the M15,and the M13 mouthpieces. I’ve played all three of those mouthpiece in my career. Like I said, currently, I’m on the M13 Lyre and most of my students play M13 Lyres or the M15s. I find that they give you that nice core, that concentration, but also a nice roundness and flexibility to the sound.

Now I’ve mentioned that sometimes I use V•12 3 ½+, sometimes 3.5, sometimes 4, and sometimes I use Traditional blue box 3 ½ – so why the variance?

Reed Strengths in Different Climates

Well, that depends on several things. It can depend on the time of year or if the climate is different. In the warmer weather, I might use a slightly lighter reed because there’s more humidity. It can also depend on the altitude. In the summers, I play in the mountains where there’s quite a bit of altitude, so I have to go to a lighter reed. When I’m away from my home hall, in a different acoustic environment, things also sound and feel different. It’s nice to have that variety with different cuts of reeds, so you have that option when you want something that has maybe a little more point, or a little more cover. With the introduction of the new V21, we have another option. I’ve been experimenting with those as well and I’m very encouraged.

"I’ve been playing Vandoren products for over 30 years" - Gregory Raden

Reed Break-In Process

I’m often asked, how do I break in reeds or what’s my method? I think everybody has a different method, and I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here, it’s just important that you do have a method and that you’re organized with it.

One thing I would say, is not to do too much playing on a new reed. I’ll only play them a minute or two when they’re brand new, and let them acclimate to being used, having moisture, and flexing. Those first couple of days (2 or 3 days), they do quite a bit of changing. So, if you’re somebody who works on reeds and scrapes them like I do, I would do very minimal amount of scraping those first couple of days until they settle in a bit more; that’s something I think is very important.

For you younger players, don’t rely just on one reed—make sure you’re rotating reeds, that’s very important. I see younger players who just play on one reed and when it dies, they’re in a panic. So, it’s very important to get into the habit of rotating reeds.

Selecting Equipment

The other thing I want to talk a little bit about is selecting equipment. When you’re trying mouthpieces, reeds, ligatures, or anything new, it’s important to try this stuff in a neutral way. What I mean by that is when you pick up a new mouthpiece to play, or a new reed, don’t try to make it play. We can force something to play, but that’s ultimately not the way you’re going to want to play (hopefully). You should just setup with your normal air pressure, your normal support, your normal embouchure, and see how the equipment responds to you. Don’t make it respond. Of course in the heat of the battle if you’re in a concert, if something doesn’t feel exactly right, well yes, then you have to do whatever it takes to make it work. But in an ideal world, that’s not what we want.

When you’re trying something new, you want to get as much information back from whatever it is you’re trying (new mouthpiece, reed, etc.). So, just be very much in neutral. If this was a new mouthpiece I was trying or reed, I would just very gently test it [lightly articulates open G]. I want to see if it will respond with my normal pressure, my normal amount of air. If it doesn’t do that, well, that tells me something. Of course, you’ll have to have a reed that fits the mouthpiece, but after that, does it make me bite, does it make me have to force? This is important information that you want to gain from it.

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