Student Experiment Updates Clarinet Reeds Using 3D Printing

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As an elementary school student, I played the clarinet for a brief period of time, although “played” might be putting it a bit too nicely. “Insulted” might be a better word – I was no good at it. I mostly decided to give it a try because its name sounded like my name, which is a good enough reason for a fourth grader. It didn’t last long, and I mostly remember hating the feel of the wooden reeds we had to put in the mouthpiece, the purpose for which I didn’t understand at the time. As it turns out, those reeds are highly important to the sound of the clarinet or to other woodwind instruments like the oboe or saxophone. They act as oscillating valves, working with the resonances of air in the instrument to create an oscillating component of flow and pressure and affect the sound produced.

South Dakota high school senior Krishana Kostal is a much more dedicated clarinetist and marching band member who understands reeds and their purpose, enough that she decided to experiment with the sound differences created by reeds made of different materials than the traditional wood. And as we’ve seen, 3D printing can come into play for optimized instrument mouthpieces.

“In particular, I wanted to learn more about 3D printed parts for musical instruments and about the sound quality of wooden reeds sound – especially when it’s cold,” she explained. “Playing in cold weather conditions with a wooden reed produces a sharper sound, so I wanted to test which reed had a better sound quality in a range of temperatures.”

Kostal designed and 3D printed several different reeds using PLA, ABS, bamboo, and HTPLA filaments. She then analyzed their sound quality compared to a standard wood reed as well as tuning forks for different C octaves. She used a Vernier microphone to assess sound quality by comparing overtones and undertones in normal and cold conditions.

The bamboo filament performed the best in both warm and cold temperatures. The reeds made from bamboo made no noise and showed comparable overtones and undertones to those of the wooden reed. The reeds made from PLA and HTPLA produced no measurable frequencies. Each of them cost $0.03 to produce, compared to wooden reeds which cost around $2.00 each.

Kostal did the experiment for a science fair and earned a second place Grand Award, a $1,000 scholarship and a sustainability award from Ricoh.

“I’m pleased that I was able to produce a practical reed that lasts longer,” Kostal said. “Traditional wooden reeds are easy to break and if not cleaned and used properly can get mold on them. The ones I have produced are easily cleaned and they still maintain the necessary musical quality. I even used my bamboo filament reed at our winter concert.”

Kostal’s high school is one of the more than 400 recipients of polymer 3D printers and STEM curriculum provided by GE as part of the company’s Additive Education Program.

“I would like to express my sincere thanks for the opportunities GE’s AEP is providing my students,” said Julie Olson, science teacher and NSTA/NCTM STEM ambassador at Mitchell High School. “Krishana has used 3D printing to explore the fascinating link between science, engineering and music. And her achievement also shows the rewards and satisfaction that solid, well-planned research can bring.”

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Source/Images: GE]

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