Instruments | Single-Reed Instruments Around the World | Woodwind

At its simplest, a reed-pipe is made by slicing a flap out of a length of hollow reed or cane near the closed end, so that the cut piece springs slightly outwards, still joined to the rest of the reed at one end.

How Reeds Work

The reed, including the blocked end and section with the flap, is placed in the mouth and blown. This breath pressure causes the flap first to bend inward towards the aperture left by its cutting, and then spring back. It does this repeatedly, hundreds of times per second. The regular pressure fluctuations caused by this reed vibration cause the air in the tube to vibrate, and a note is produced whose pitch is determined by the length of the tube; the presence of the air column forces the reed-flap to vibrate at the resonant frequencies of the column, not the flap’s natural pitch. The effective tube length can be varied, usually by making finger holes.

Though it is possible to make the whole instrument out of one reed or similar material, usually the vibrating section – known as the reed – and the tube are made of different materials and fitted together. The reed can thus be replaced when it wears out or breaks without disposing of the whole instrument.

Reed Pipes

An example of a simple two-part reed pipe is the instrument known in Croatia as a diplica. It is made from two pieces of reed: a section of reed tube with vibrating cut flap fits inside a section with five finger holes, and can be slid in or out for tuning. This is a delicate instrument, of limited life, but the sound is similar to that of a single-reed bagpipe chanter.

In most reed-pipes, the fingered tube is made of a more robust material – be it an existing tube such as bamboo or other cane, or wood, which requires some tool to make it hollow, or modern commercial tubing. Such are the Turkish sipsi and Serbian klanet.

Horn Pipes

Often a feature known in English as a bell is added to the bottom end of the pipe, intended to project or direct the sound, which on reed instruments emerges from the end and from the finger holes. This can be a cone made from the apex of a cow or other animal horn; such a horn-equipped reed-pipe is sometimes known as a horn pipe. Examples with wooden tube include the Armenian pku and Russian zhaleika.

Sometimes the blowing end also has a cow-horn cone surrounding the reed; the player presses the wide end against his mouth, thus avoiding the need to get the reed wet by putting it in his mouth. An example is the Welsh pibgorn – an instrument that virtually disappeared but is now undergoing a slight revival.

Single-Reed Variations

Pipes sounded by single reeds are found worldwide. In the Mediterranean and the Middle East especially, it is common to find them...

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Source: The Illustrated Complete Musical Instruments Handbook, general editor Lucien Jenkins


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