They Myth About Strong Reeds by Chris Apps Posted on 01 Apr 08:34It is a common misconception that in order to get a good strong volume with the right tone one must play a strong reed. Some say that the struggle of playing a strong reed is worth the effort because the sound is so much better. But this is FAKE NEWS! Our instrument should be a relaxing pleasure to play. Not some kind of a wrestling match. If you are struggling to blow a strong reed how are you to play with any finesse or musicality? You need to be able to relax into playing. You need relaxed fingers if you are to accurately articulate the intricate embellishments that the music demands.
The key here is efficiency. By this I mean the response from any given reed proportional to the effect put in. Really strong reeds are often less resonant and produce less volume than an efficient reed of lesser strength.
It is true that the easier the reed the more it is likely to move pitch with pressure changes and so there is a balance to be struck when playing with a band. Whilst a reed must be comfortable to play it can't be so easy that it will vary in pitch when blowing pressure varies. The easier the reed the more it is likely to move pitch with pressure changes.
For solo playing, the pressure/pitch relationship can be easily monitored and adjustments can be made to ensure a steady pitch so it is much easier to play a soft reed successfully.
Reeds are made more efficient by a combination of the correct mouth size, length of reed and amount of cane on the blades. Getting this right comes with trial and error and experience. My book The Complete Guide to Highland Bagpipe Reeds has some very clear guidelines to help with this process.
One last thought. I have often heard the opinion that soft reeds don't last as long as strong reeds. This is not true. More FAKE NEWS! With a proper playing pressure (not over taxing the reed) and care not to get too much moisture on the reed, it can last a long time. I myself play a reed set at around 25” of water. I play my pipes almost daily and the reed I am currently playing has lasted over two years and it still sounds terrific. You can hear this reed on my YouTube video.