Ligatures 101 for Band Directors
So you’ve got your students on a quality reed, a quality mouthpiece. Now’s the time you might ask, “What is this piece of metal holding the two together, and do I need to pay any attention to it?” Does that sound about right? Don’t worry, you’re not alone and we’re here to tell you everything you need to know. That piece of metal is called a ligature and, after the mouthpiece and reed, it is truly the icing on the cake. While any ligature can simply secure the reed to the mouthpiece, a quality ligature enhances reed and mouthpiece response, tone color, and even consistency.
Like mouthpieces, ligatures come in many different materials and designs - metal, leather, string, inverted, one-screw, two-screw, etc. In the end, manipulation of these elements and their contact points (where the ligature physically touches the reed) affect the way in which a reed vibrates. How this is perceived is very subjective, but for the sake of your sanity, we’ll generalize.
The more material touching the reed, the more of a dampening effect it can potentially have on reed vibration. Inversely, the less material coming into contact with the reed, the more freely the reed vibrates. This is why a thick leather ligature might be perceived as having a darker sound and a different feel than a thin, metal ligature with minimal contact points. See the figures below for a closer look at contact points.