A reed is a thin strip of material which vibrates to produce a sound on a musical instrument. The reeds of most Woodwind instruments are made from Arundo donax ("Giant cane") or synthetic material; tuned reeds (as in harmonicas and accordions) are made of metal or synthetics.
Single reeds are used on the mouthpieces of clarinets and saxophones. They have a flat (back) side which fits against the mouthpiece and a top side which tapers to a thin tip. They are rectangular in shape except for the thin vibrating tip, which is curved to match the curve of the mouthpiece tip. Although all single reeds are shaped similarly, they vary in size to fit the appropriate mouthpiece.
The most obvious variation in reeds designed for the same instrument is a variation in thickness ("hardness" or "strength"), generally measured on a scale of 1 through 5 from softest to hardest. This is not a standardized scale and reed strengths vary between manufacturers. The thickness of the tip and heel and the profile in between also affect the sound and playability. Cane of different grades (density, stiffness), even if cut with the same profile, will also respond differently.
Double reeds are used on the oboe, oboe d'amore, english horn, bassoon, contrabassoon, sarrusophone and bagpipes. They are typically not used in conjunction with a mouthpiece; rather the two reeds vibrate against each other. However, in the case of the crumhorn, bagpipes, and shawm, a reed cap that contains an airway is placed over the reeds and blown without the reeds actually coming in contact with the player's mouth. Reed strengths are graded from soft to hard.
There are two types of free reeds: framed and unframed. Framed free reeds are used on ancient Asian instruments such as the Chinese shêng, Japanese shō, and Laotian khene, and modern European instruments such as the harmonium or reed organ, harmonica, concertina, bandoneón, accordion, and Russian bayan (a type of accordion). The reed is made from cane, willow, brass or steel, and is enclosed in a rigid frame. The pitch of the framed free reed is fixed, unlike the reeds of the single- or double-reed instruments.
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