Aren't we are all looking for a way to reduce the time wasted fumbling around trying to get the dog gone things to vibrate. Or is it just me?
I have tried it a number of ways......from rubbing them down and keeping them on glass, to soaking for days, to the climate controlled reed boxes. I have tried various ways of breaking them in a bit a time, several days before a session or or rehearsal.
I have attempted working on reeds, sanding, trimming, filing to adjust strength or balance. I wind up going back and forth between those techniques or some combination of them. Lately, I find myself keeping the reed wet and on the mouthpiece for days, even longer than a week sometimes. (I do take it apart during that time to clean it though, it can get funky otherwise) I just play it from day to day until it wears out, then I toss it. I seem to find reeds don't play the same the next day if they are dried and then soaked again. But even this doesn't always work. It can save a lot of time though. Many practice sessions turn into a reed search, and little is accomplished. Other days, I just practice on the bad reeds figuring if I can make them sound good, then a good reed will be fantastic. This can be risky as while struggling with a reed that doesn't vibrate well or easily can cause you to develop bad habits. You adjust to try to make the reed play and force things sometimes.
So this is it.....
Find a space where you can lay out, organize and story many reeds. I was amazed to find Bob Sheppard had an entire wall and workbench committed to reeds. Several mouthpieces, different ligatures all over the place and the coolest thing, boxes and boxes of reeds as a "Rico Artist". What I basically mean is, expect many differences from one reed to the next, regardless of how it looks. Many perfect looking reeds don't play at all and reeds you would reject on appearance can play great. It is simply the condition of being a reed player.
In addition to lessons which are always helpful, I found ideas on Youtube from video clinics by name players all over the place. Seems there are quite a few schools on the subject. So far, I believe, since we are dealing with a plant, the range of consistency is fairly wide. I have a better understanding now after I was fortunate enough to receive a tour of the factory in Sylmar, CA. It is unbelievable what D'Addario is doing with Rico Reeds. I have been playing saxophone since 9th grade in high school and I learned more about reeds in that 2 hour tour, than in the last 40 years. Now there's a learning gap for you.
So what would be my recommendation? Well, unless you go with synthetic reeds such as, LeGere Signature or Silverstein's AMBIPOLY jazz, expect reeds to be an ongoing issue. As a sax player, I have come to believe that the perfect reed is an elusive beast, almost unattainable. Rico does everything one can think of from growing their own cane on two different plantations, to having a journeyman machinist and machine shop, forging custom tools and machinery, an assembly line process, with impeccable quality control, and then some! Even with all that, all reed players are familiar with the, 2 or 3 out of ten in a box, that play well, let alone be perfect.
Assuming one has a budget available..... find a mouthpiece and reed combination that blows easily. Try several brands, styles and strengths of reeds on your current mouthpiece first. Start with softer reeds and work up. Much of the stiffness or number 2, 2.5, 3, soft, med soft, etc. you need will depend how wide the gap between the tip of the reed and mouthpiece is. The wider the gap the softer reed you will need. Go by how you feel. If you have to work or blow too hard or there is too much resistance, continue to explore options or combinations. Having to blow too hard can increase tension that will manifest itself in your shoulders and arms and then everything tightens up. While the saxophone can require a good lung capacity and a lot of air, you should still try for a set up that allows you to stay relaxed.
It is best to wait until you have played a while and have developed a strong embouchure. For beginning students, the stock mouthpiece that comes with the saxophone is usually workable to start. When you grow as a player, you may find you want a certain type of tone or sound, maybe just to fit the style of music you play most. Before you begin, do your research, discover what your favorite saxophone players use. The type of saxophone, tone resonators on the pads, brass or silver metal, etc., all influence the tone. Take your time with it. It should be more of a slow evolutionary process. When you do try out mouthpieces, have numerous reeds wet and ready to play and try several reeds on each mouthpiece you play. Go with your gut, if it feels right you will know it. If your are at all unsure, wait and keep looking. Most music stores with quality horn departments are willing to let customers try the mouthpieces before buying. Of course you need to purchase the reeds.
One mistake not to make. Be careful not to fall into that constant search for the perfect set up. At some point you have to put in the time practicing enough to build up the muscle strength to produce a good tone and make what you do have work. (the good ol' long tones for example) You want to have that strength before shopping around. But don't do the opposite either, like I did, and continue to hammer away stubbornly, practicing with an incorrect combination. Equipment really does make a difference with the ease or difficulty of execution on a particular horn. The saxophone itself, should fit your hands well too. Many horn designs have slightly different key placement where one may fit your hands better than the other.
While that was a bit off the subject, it bears an effect on the reed situation. Embouchure is another factor.
To sum up, if you have internet access, take advantage of the huge amount of information out there. Just searching "saxophone embouchure" brings up all kinds of advice on how to position your lips etc. Sigurd Racher has a good 3 part Buescher clinic on Youtube.
Another good page, I discovered: www.mindworkshop.com, excellent for beginning saxophone students and parents. Very informative. Written by Steven William Rimmer, this page is well put together, I highly recommend reading this if your new to the saxophone. Even if your just contemplating the idea of taking up the sax, or having your kids play one, a must read.
Some good links:
Selmer clinic series with David Sanborn
Michael Brecker @ Texas University, 1984
Don Menza, Tone and Emboucher
Good luck everyone.
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