There are several main types of instruments out there used in concert bands.
Two of them, are brass and woodwind and they both have a few defining differences. One of the main differences is how they each create their sound.
Here’s Some Background Information On Reed Instruments
The section of instruments that primarily uses reeds is called woodwinds. With woodwind instruments, they are categorized together because the air being pushed into is split in half on an edge like the lip plate of a flute or the edge of a reed.
What is a Reed?
A reed is a thin piece of either cane, synthetic materials, or palm leaves that attaches to an instrument and vibrates to produce a sound.
There are three main different types of reeds:
- Single reeds are one layer of cane or synthetic material and are most commonly seen on clarinet and saxophone.
- Double reeds are used by oboes and bassoons and are two strips of material bound together, they are made by shaving down a cane before being placed face to face and being tied together by strings, and inserted into a piece of cork.
- Quadruple reeds are most commonly seen around Asia and are made of four layers of dried palm leaves.
- They are constructed similarly to a double reed, but there are two layers vibrating against one another on each side instead of just one.
Single reeds range in sizes and increase by halves, they start at 1&½ and get thicker as they go up.
The normal range for reeds is from 2-5
Much like brass instruments, each instrument will use a different type of reed, it will say what instrument and key it is for on the packaging!
What Instruments Use Reeds?
As mentioned above reeds are used by most instruments in the woodwind family, and there are single reeds, double reeds, and quadruple reeds and each instrument uses a specific type.
Some instruments that use single reeds include:
- Bass Clarinet
- Soprano Saxophone
- Alto Saxophone
- Tenor Saxophone
- Baritone Saxophone
- Bass Saxophone
Some instruments that use double reeds include:
- English Horn
Some instruments that use quadruple reeds include:
- Pui’ Pui’ (From Indonesia)
- Shehnai (From India)
- Sralai (From Cambodia)
- Pi (From Thailand)
Are There any Woodwind Instruments that Do Not use Reeds?
There are several instruments considered to be woodwinds because the air splits across the lip plate as it goes into the instrument.
Most of them are classified as aerophones and are reedless wind instruments that create sound by blowing air across an opening.
This style of instrument is one of the oldest in history with the oldest evidence of one found so far being over 43,000 years old, and there are hundreds of variations of it around the world.
Some examples include:
- Western concert flute
- Daegeum (From Korea)
- Dizi (From China)
- Atenteben (From Ghana)
Do Any Instruments in the Brass Family use a Reed?
No, brass instruments use a different attachment called a mouthpiece, which is a metal cup-shaped attachment that goes onto the receiver, an empty pipe on the end of the instrument closest to the face.
Much like a reed, each instrument has its own specific type of mouthpiece it has to use to produce the correct sound and if you do not get the correct type for your instrument it will not be able to be played!
They all vary in shape and size, and there are many different types, brands, and prices of mouthpieces to choose from with each brass instrument.
Have Trumpets Used Reeds in the Past?
Reeds have never been a part of the trumpet’s history.
The earliest form of the trumpet was made from natural things, such as animal horns. They did not have valves and the ancient peoples would blow directly into them to produce sound.
In the middle ages, people learned how to bend brass, so they then began to make them out of metal, and over time learned how to make valved trumpets which eventually lead the instrument to be developed into the classic trumpet shape we know today!
How Do Trumpets Produce Sound Without a Reed?
Trumpet players create sound by ‘buzzing’ into their mouthpiece.
Buzzing is when you press your lips together and blow air through them, causing your lips to vibrate.
With brass instruments, the musician will buzz into a mouthpiece, which attaches onto the instrument and helps the air travel through the pipes.
The vibrations inside the metal and out the bell are what creates the instrument’s sound.
Are Trumpets Harder to Play Than Instruments with a Reed?
Trumpets typically take more air to play, since they have to get it through about six and a half feet of pipes before it comes out of the bell, but when it comes to reed instruments, one of the biggest things you have to take into consideration is mouth placement on the head joint.
Opposed to brass where your rest your lips on it, with reed instruments you have to put the instrument into your mouth.
If the head joint is too far in or too far out of a woodwind player’s mouth it can cause serious effects in the playing of the instrument, and could even cause the reed to break. Making it useless.
Another thing about reeds is that the reeds have to be replaced every so often due to the typical wear and tear of playing.
Sometimes they can last a few months, sometimes they only last a few weeks, whereas a brass mouthpiece can last for years with the proper care and cleaning.
Also if a reed is not properly taken care of or regularly replaced, it can even get moldy. Yuck!