Reeds & Mouthpieces Part 1

It’s an old story- cane reeds are the bane of many saxophone players. They are, by most accounts, “inconsistent”, “unreliable”, “problematic”, and, then, “just right”.

That’s the same brand, same grade, same box even!

I believe what I’m talking about here applies to all saxophones but I know it applies to soprano sax. It’s not the reed- it’s your mouthpiece.

Now, I’m the first to say that most brands of soprano reeds are not very good. For some reason, it seems like many name brand makers don’t put enough effort or thought into their soprano reed offerings. But there are a few brands that excel at soprano reeds, in my opinion.

But that is not the subject at hand. What I’m talking about is reed placement or reed/mouthpiece integrity- the “precise” way that your reed sits and responds on your mouthpiece.

So, here’s the first thing to know: if your mouthpiece does not allow your reed to sit and respond with “integrity”, it very likely will seem like the reed is no good. So, you toss it and put on another.

Same thing. So you try another, and another.

And then- bam, the next one plays well. Seems like you got a lot of bad reeds in that box, doesn’t it?

But let’s look at it another way, by doing something I used to do as a kid in school. I had a red plastic ruler and, if I “hung” one end of it off my desk and held the other end tight to the desk, I could pull down the free end, let it go and—it would vibrate and make a tone. And if I pulled the ruler back toward the desk, the pitch would rise as the vibrating ruler got “shorter and shorter”.

That ruler vibrated with “integrity” because I held the one end firmly to the desk and also because the ruler was essentially vibrating freely at equidistance from the free end to the desk along both edges of the ruler.  If I put the ruler on an angle so that one edge of the free end was longer than the other edge, the ruler would hardly vibrate, if at all, and the sound was indistinct. In other words, it lacked “integrity”.

Folks, this happens all the time with your soprano mouthpieces and reeds. One edge of the freely vibrating reed is longer than the other- significantly longer.

Try placing your soprano reed slightly askew on the mouthpiece. You are effectively creating one longer edge by doing so.  Make the change a subtle one, not a gross one. Now play it. Try adjusting it again to a different position and play it.

There’s why so many reeds play poorly.

So, why does one “magic” reed suddenly work where all others were duds?

That’s next, in Pt. 2.