Reeds are temperamental at the best of times but does the weather really affect them?
This is a common question and the answer is a definite yes! Most of us spend a lot of time finding and preparing the “perfect” reed. So it’s even more frustrating when for some reason your reed just doesn’t seem to behave the way you expect. A reed that was playing great last week can all of sudden feel too thin or warp out of shape making it unplayable.
Most often this can be down to changes in the weather, or more specifically the hudmity.
Reeds are cane – a plant. And like all woody things they do absorb moisture. If your weather changes from dry to wet and rainy, your reeds will absorb more moisture and so will change shape slightly. This will affect the way the reeds seals on the mouthpiece and also how it responds to tonguing. You may also notice a duller sound quality.
If your normally damp weather changes to dry with low humidity then you will notice your reeds may dry out leaving them more brittle. They may have a more harsh sound when you play on them too.
Over the years I have often travelled from one side of the world to the other to perform and this is nearly always an issue for my reeds. If I travel from the UK where we get a lot of rain to somewhere like Greece or South America where it’s quite dry then my reeds will definitely dry out and change.
Another time you may notice these changes with your reeds is if you find yourself in an air-conditioned environment for long periodsof time. With my band we have occasionally flown out to do a concert on a cruise ship for a couple days. Because you are constantly in an air-conditioned environment when you’re playing (not when you’re lying around with a cocktail on deck of course!) your reeds will always dry out a little.
So. Is there a way around this?
Even if you don’t travel with your sax often and your weather remains pretty constant, I would always recommend storing your reeds in a controlled environment. Sounds complicated but really doesn’t need to be. By just keeping your reeds in a ziplock bag you will be heading in the right direction although if you live in a warm country you may have issues with mould after a period of time unless you keep your reeds clean.
An easier solution is something like the Vandoren reed case which keeps your reeds at a constant humidity when stored. Plus it’s nice and simple, compact and secure for your reeds. Another cool thing about the Vandoren case is that you can keep 4 reeds in there that you can then number and rotate so you can have more than one reed ready to go all the time.
Ultimately our time is best spent working on our sax playing instead of struggling with reeds so anything you can do to minimise the time spent on your reeds is a good idea. By getting in the habit of looking after your reeds in-between practice and performing you can increase your chances of keeping a great reed for longer – and that’s the holy grail for sax players!