Tools of the Trade

We clarinet players are always looking for the silver bullet—i.e., the “Magic Mouthpiece” or the “Perfect Reed.” Not gonna happen.

But I’m convinced there are three simple tools that will help make you a better player.

Metronome. Nothing will aggravate you more than this ticking little nag on your music stand when you’re playing scales and exercises. And yet nothing will help develop your sense of time and evenness like one of these. I’ve seen ’em as low as $10 and as high as $200 ’though for $200 bucks it ought to practice the clarinet for you!

Multiple Reed Case. The reeds produce all the vibrations that create your sound, so you need to protect them. And don’t just play one reed into the ground; instead pick three or four and rotate them.

Humidity, temperature and usage take their toll on these little strips of wood, so you need to be careful with them. Rinse them and blot them dry with a paper towel once in a while and always place them in a reed storage case.

The variety of reed cases out there will hold anywhere from four to 10 reeds. Some use glass and some use ribbed plastic, but all store the reeds flat to dry and prevent warping.

A Silk or Microfiber Swab (Not Cotton). Eeewww! Please wipe that clarinet out every time you put it in the case! Granted, the moisture in your instrument is just condensation, but it’s still moisture. Things you can’t see (and some you can) like to grow in moist environments. This applies to all clarinets whether they’re made of wood, plastic or hard cheese. Any buildup in your tone holes or bore will affect control, intonation and sound.

And don’t just wad up the swab in your case and expect it to dry. (Remember those moldy old socks in your gym locker after semester break?) Lay it out flat on top of your instrument in the case.

Now arm thyself with these tools, o clarinet-faithful, and pursue the greatest tool of all—the one true silver bullet: PRACTICE!

About the Author

Jim Snyder has been the busiest jazz clarinetist of the last 30 years, performing in clubs, concert halls and jazz festivals in the United States and abroad. Jim played for many years in New Orleans, where he was also a member of trumpet virtuoso Al Hirt’s band. He is regularly featured as a guest artist in concerts and recordings and is a staff musician for the Walt Disney Company. His new CD, “Coliseum Square,” was recently released on the Apple Jazz label. For more information, visit

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