I always wanted to play the saxophone, for some reason. Now that I think of it, I should have just gone ahead and rented one for a while to see whether it was as much fun as it looks. As it was, I picked up another reed instrument: the piob mhor, or great Highland bagpipes.
The saxophone, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, English horn, and yes, the bagpipes are all reed instruments. That’s not an exhaustive list: there are lots more instruments that have reeds in them, but that’s beside the point.
Saxophones and clarinets are single-reed instruments. The reed they use is a single strip of cane, like you see in the picture above. The reed is attached to the mouthpiece, and the player blows through the gap between them. This causes the reed to vibrate and sound to be directed through the instrument, which can be altered using the keys in the front of the instrument. Kind of like tenor saxophone player Junior Walker, best known for his songs "Shotgun" and "What Does It Take."
Oboes, bassoons, English horns, and bagpipes use a double reed. It’s kind of like taking two single reeds and binding them together, so that when the player blows between them, they vibrate against each other.
In bagpipes, the double reed is fitted into the chanter, or melody pipe (what the piper is fingering as he plays). The chanter is fitted into the bag and the air in the bag does the "blowing." In addition, single reeds are fitted into the drones (the pipes on the piper’s shoulder) and sound a single note as the piper plays. Keeping the chanter and the drones going steadily is part of the joy of playing the pipes. I did all right, but had a tendency to press too hard on the bag and blow the notes flat. They fixed that problem by giving me the heaviest chanter reed they could. I wish I could have played like this guy…