Saxophone Reeds, How They Work, Why They’re Needed & More
Music Industry How To is supported by readers. When you buy via a link on our site, we’ll possibly earn an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you.
The saxophone reed often seems like an unimportant part of the instrument. While the reed seems small and minor, it is the most important part when it comes to making the noise that you need out of the instrument. Choosing the right reed will make learning this instrument a little easier.
The saxophone reed is important because when it vibrates, it sends those vibrations down the saxophone to produce the notes. A broken, low quality, or overly worn reed will have a significant impact on the sound of the saxophone.
Let’s take a closer look at saxophone reeds, how they work, and why they are so important to helping you play this instrument.
How Saxophone Reeds Work
The reed is a simple thin and soft bamboo piece that will be the heart of the sound of your saxophone. It is attached to the mouthpiece of the instruments. The vibrations of the reed help to give the sound that you want out of the saxophone.
The saxophone reed works by:
- The player holds the reed of the instrument between their lips.
- They blow in air, giving enough pressure and velocity to vibrate the reed.
- This vibration moves to the instrument to make a sound.
The vibrations from the reed is the important part. When the reed vibrates, it makes it possible to hear the sound you want while playing songs.
The reed is such a simple part of the instrument, but it can make a lot of sound. Without the reed, the saxophone will sound bad and not give the beautiful tones that you love. With the help of the reed, you can enjoy a melodious sound each time.
Why are Saxophone Reeds Needed
The reed on your saxophone is one of the most important parts of the instrument. If you try and play the saxophone without a reed, you will get nothing out of the instrument at all. The right reed is the only way to get the saxophone to actually play for you.
A good reed makes it simple to play because:
- It fits your instrument well.
- It vibrates to send the sound through the body of the saxophone.
There are different thickness levels and sizes of saxophone reeds you can choose to change up the sounds and give the music the feel that you want. The thinner reeds are easier to learn on because they vibrate less. As you progress with your skills, you can move to the thicker reeds which give a richer and deeper sound.
How to Choose the Right Reed for Your Saxophone
There are a few factors that a musician needs to consider when choosing a reed. The two most important aspects are the thickness of the reed and how compatible it is with the mouthpiece.
The Thickness of the Saxophone Reed Matters
The thickness will determine how much vibration can occur. This is often shown in a number between 2 to 5. When the number is lower, this gives you a thinner reed. When the number is higher, the reed is thicker.
Some things to consider with these reeds include:
- Reeds between 2 and 2.5 have a brighter tone.
- Reeds between 4 and 5 have tones that are warmer and bigger.
Reeds that are thinner are good for beginners because they vibrate a bit more. You should practice the saxophone for a bit before trying some of the thicker reeds on your instrument. You can consider a few different reeds to switch out while you play different songs.
The Reed Must Fit the Mouthpiece of the Saxophone
You must choose a reed that fits the specific mouthpiece on your instrument. This can limit some of your choices, especially if the mouthpiece is unique on the instrument. If you have a beginner’s saxophone, for example, the mouthpiece may be smaller than usual, so you need a special reed.
When Should I Replace My Sax Reed?
It is important for the musician to replace your reed to help the instrument play well. A reed is a small piece of wood that gets wet from saliva and constant use will make it wear out. You will not be able to keep it forever.
The amount of time your read lasts will depend on how often you play the saxophone. When the reed starts to feel soft and weak, then it is time to replace it.
There are three life stages of a reed:
- The reed may feel stiff right out of the box.
- After using it a few times, it will start to mold well and feel good.
- When it gets soft and weak, it is time to replace the reed.
Musicians should consider having a few saxophone reeds at home so they can easily replace the reed when it gets old. This helps the music sound better when you play and can protect the instrument too.
How to Tell If You Have a Good Saxophone Reed
Saxophone players can tell if they have a good reed just by looking at it. You can look at the center of your reed, also known as the heart, to see the coloring. If that coloring is dark and near the center, then the reed is in good shape.
When either of these two conditions are not met, there is a chance that the reed will not work at all.
Here’s some signs you may have a poor saxophone reed:
- Inconsistent grain on the reed.
- A heart that is not at the center.
- Inconsistency in some other part of the reed.
The problem here is that these signs may not guarantee that the reed will work or not. Some reeds that have inconsistent grain, for example, end up playing just fine. Then there are reeds that meet the criteria above that may not play at all.
A visual inspection, however, is still a good place to start. The best way to test whether the reed will work or not is to put it on the saxophone and start playing. You can play a few notes and usually tell whether the reed is a good one or not. Keep at least a few reeds around so testing them out can be easy.
How to Break In a Saxophone Reed
The reed must be changed out of your saxophone often. Each time you add a new reed to the instrument, you must break it in. There are debates on whether it is important to break the new reed in or not, with some sax players saying that it really doesn’t matter. In reality, lower quality reeds will likely need some work while higher quality ones will work fine out of the box.
Here’s how to break in a saxophone reed:
- Use your thumb to polish or rub the read.
- Pick a very fine sandpaper and rub the reed.
- Wet the reed for five minutes. Your saliva will work well but you can choose water too.
- Play for shorter periods to work the reed up to longer sessions.
After doing this a few times, your reed will be ready to use and can play all the songs you desire without being stiff or hard to use.
Saxophone Reed, Final Thoughts
Your saxophone is not going to work well without the reed. It will not make much noise without the reed because the sound comes from the small amount of vibration the reed will produce. Picking out the right reed and understanding how it works will help you play beautifully each time.
The reed is such a simple part of the saxophone, but it makes all the difference in how the instrument will play. If you are looking to learn a new instrument, then purchase a few reeds ahead of time to help you be prepared.
P.S. Remember though, none of what you've learned will matter if you don't know how to get your music out there and earn from it. Want to learn how to do that? Then get our free ‘5 Steps To Profitable Youtube Music Career' ebook emailed directly to you!