It’s a common question but let’s quickly answer it, Flutes do not have reeds. Some instruments in the woodwind family, like the bassoon and the clarinet, use reeds, while others, like the flute, do not.
Flutes are part of the woodwind family in the orchestra. The woodwind instruments include instruments where the sound is produced by air creating vibrations through a cylinder.
What are Woodwind Instruments?
Woodwind instruments are instruments that produce sound through the use of vibrations caused by the blowing of air. These instruments are usually cylindrical or conical in shape. The woodwind family includes flute instruments and reed instruments.
Originally woodwind instruments were made of wood, or their ancestors were made of wood. Today, though, there are many metallic instruments in the woodwind section of the orchestra. This includes flutes and saxophones.
Woodwind instruments do not include trumpets or trombones, because the method for creating sound is different between these two instrumental families. Trumpets, trombones, and other brass instruments create sound when the musician’s lips vibrate air directly into the instrument. Woodwind instrumentalists create sound by blowing air across the hole or into a reed.
What are Reeds?
Reeds are thin strips of cane or other materials. Most reeds are made from Giant Cane. Reeds are inserted into the mouthpiece of specific woodwind instruments. When the musician blows into the mouthpiece, the reed vibrates which buzzes and helps create the sound. The vibration then carries through the cylinder and the pitch is controlled by holes and/or keys along the top of the instrument.
Instruments like the saxophone and the clarinet are single-reed instruments. In these instruments, one single reed is inserted into the mouthpiece of the instrument, and it vibrates to produce sound.
Instruments like the bassoon and the oboe are considered double-reed instruments. These instruments have two reeds inserted into the mouthpiece. When the two are inserted together, the curve between them allows for air movement and vibration, which produces the distinct timbre of these instruments.
How Does a Flute Produce Sound?
Flutes are cylindrically shaped. They have a mouthpiece at the end that has a hole. When air blows across this hole, it creates a vibration. That vibration then travels down the cylinder.
The pitch of the vibration on a flute is controlled by keys. These keys cover holes that run along the top of the cylinder. Certain combinations of closed and open holes create particular notes.
What Instruments are in the Flute Family?
Instruments in the flute family consist of cylindrical instruments with no reeds that produce sound by blowing across an opening in the mouthpiece. Not all flutes use keys, but the flute used in the Western classical symphonic orchestra does use keys.
Recorders, piccolos, and pan-flutes are all a part of the flute family.
Why Do Some Instrumentalists Carve Their Own Reeds?
Often oboe and bassoon players will carve their reeds. The double-reeds required by these instruments are carved from came. Instrumentalists may choose to carve their reeds rather than purchasing pre-carved reeds to ensure the quality of the reed.
Every person’s face is shaped a little differently. This means that the mouth shape, or embouchure, of each person is slightly different. Instrumentalists who carve their reeds can craft their reed to fit the shape of their embouchure perfectly.
The quality of the reed can affect the timbre and the resulting sound of the instrument. Through carving their reeds themselves, instrumentalists ensure that they will be producing the sound they want.
How Often Do Reeds Need to Be Changed?
Due to the moisture expelled by breathing, reeds can warp and/or crack over time. They can also build up bacteria. Reeds can also chip, which will affect their longevity and the tone quality that they produce.
The lifespan of a reed depends on how often you play, the quality of the reed, and several factors beyond your control. For this reason, a reed may last a couple of months, and it may last only one or two weeks. If the reed is squeaking, chipped, or broken, it needs to be replaced.
How Much Do Reeds Cost?
Reeds are often sold in packs of ten. The price of these packs changes depending on the thickness, quality of the reed, and the intended instrument. 10-packs of reeds usually cost between $10.00 and $30.00.