All us sax players end up with a huge collection of different reeds because we are always searching for the “perfect” reed.
However, most of us struggle to get a reed that makes our saxophone easy and fun to play. So how do we choose the right reed for us?
Starting with cane sax reeds
These are the most common reeds and the best ones to start with. They are not super expensive (though not super cheap either!). This is a good thing because you will probably break plenty of them and have to change your reed regularly!
Cane reeds come in different sizes from 1.5 up in half sizes. Most beginner players should start with a 1.5 reed and then move up to a size 2 when as their embouchure gets stronger.
There are lots of different BRANDS of reeds. Some of the brands I have used are Vandoren, Rico, D’Addario, Marca. All are great quality, but they also all feel different to play and have their own sound. This is why it’s best to experiment to find what you like.
Sax.co.uk offer a Reed Selection Pack that I really like – it means you can buy a selection of reeds in a certain size. This is a great way to try a bunch of similar reeds and compare them without spending a fortune.
So there really is a lot to consider with cane reeds. And of course as if it wasn’t complicated enough, the weather can also affect your reeds! Moving from a humid climate to a dry climate will cause your reeds to all perform completely differently. This can be a huge headache if you’re a touring musician.
Setting up your saxophone mouthpiece
Getting your reed set in the correct place on the mouthpiece is super important. I find it’s best to always put the ligature on the mouthpiece first, THEN put the reed under the ligature moving in from the top of the mouthpiece. This way you are less likely to damage the reed.
And of course the flat side of the reed always goes to the flat side of the mouthpiece!
It’s also important that the reed is evenly spaced on the mouthpiece facing and just down from the tip of the mouthpiece.
When should you change your sax reed?
You’ll find as you develop your embouchure that your reed may feel softer. You might also find the top notes are sounding “thin” or not sounding at all.This is a great indication that it’s time to move up to a harder reed.
Now don’t jump all the way to a size 3 or 4! Just move up a half size of reed and get used to that first.
Also, remember that there is often a big variation in a single box of reeds. Even though they are all the same “size” they may feel harder or softer. So experiment!
Is my sax reed too hard or too soft?
If your reed is too soft you will often struggle to get high notes or the palm key notes to sound. If your reed is too hard you will probably get a very airy, breathy sound on your sax. And, your embouchure (or mouth muscles) will be getting really tired, really quickly.
If this is you, then it’s time to drop down a half size with your reeds.
As a general rule, most players will use around a size 2.5 reed. That is a great strength to aim for, then work to develop your embouchure so you get the sound you want. This is a better strategy than working too hard to cope with a very hard reed.
Cane reeds vs Synthetic sax reeds.
These days Synthetic reeds are a real viable option.
For years I never liked any synthetic reeds (and I tried all of them!). However Lègére make a fantastic “signature cut” synthetic reed that I fell in love with a couple years back.
I’m now actually one of their artists and I use Lègére reeds on all my instruments.
There are a couple caveats though to consider with synthetic reeds.
Synthetic reeds cost WAY more per reed than cane reeds. They do however last much longer. For me a single Lègére reed will last several months. However being more expensive, it can be a painful (and expensive) process to find the right size for you.
However, if you find the size that suits you (and Lègére come in 1/4 sizes too which has been handy for me) then you will spend a lot less time messing about with reeds.
Every synthetic reed will perform the same way AND it will continue to play the same way for the lifetime of the reed.
However, if you are a beginner I wouldn’t suggest rushing into synthetic reeds. Cane reeds are best until you develop your embouchure and get a clearer idea of the reed size that suits you.
Don’t forget to grab my FREE saxophone tool kit lesson bundle to get your skills together: Enjoy. Nigel
More reading: check out my Reed Geek review. This tool makes adjusting reeds super easy!
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