I love the saxophone family because they are such a fun instrumental group of instruments. Even more, there are various saxophone reeds that suit different performance and practice scenarios. Saxophones perform in orchestras (on a limited basis), concert, jazz, polka, jazz combos, ska, punk and rock and roll bands. As you can see saxophones perform in all sorts of groups.
There are saxophone reeds to help players obtain the subtle sounds and demands they have for each specific scenario. Reeds come in different lengths, sizes, thicknesses, and strengths. It is important to understand that the reed itself does not give you the sound you want. It comes from you – the performer. The saxophone reed only assists in the sound manipulation.
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What Saxophone Reeds Should I Start On?
Most beginning saxophonists start their musical career using Rico or Rico Royal saxophone reeds, strength 2 1/2. A 2 1/2 strength reed is an ideal starting reed for students. Rico Royals tend to be cheaper reeds and you will go through many reeds in the early years of playing. Many experienced players continue to play on 2 1/2 strength reeds. It is important to understand that a higher strength saxophone reed does not mean the player is better or more experienced. Saxophonists that would like to move up to a more advanced reed could try the Rico Reserve or the Vandoren (blue box.)
Musicians that choose the Vandoren saxophone reeds will note that this brand of reed comes in various colored boxes. The recommended blue box of Vandoren reeds is an all-around purpose reed for saxophonists. I highly encourage all of my saxophonists and clarinetists to purchase the blue box Vandoren reeds with the intent of creating a consistent quality of sound. These particular reeds tend to cost a little more than the Rico Royales but not by much.
A consideration when deciding on what type of saxophone reed you want to use is whether you want a more classical sound, that has a darker texture or one that has a more raw sound and is free-flowing. There are two types of reed cuts that determine if you get a more classical sound or a more raw jazz sound.
- American Cut – Free-flowing Jazz Reed Cut
- French Cut – Darker, Clear Classical Reed Cut
The blue box Vandoren and Rico Royale saxophone reeds are both French cut reeds. These are great for concert band or orchestral rehearsals and performances.
Some saxophone reeds can play using the French or American styled reed. Therefore, both the Rico Jazz Select and red box Vandoren Jazz Java (filed) cut can play French or American. The green American (unfiled) Jazz Java cut is developed specifically for jazz playing.
Reed Personal Preference
There is a multitude of reed choices out there and what it ultimately leads to is personal preference. To clarify, the only way to be sure if you like or dislike the way a reed sounds or plays is to purchase a reed and use it to make a decision. Since everyone has a slightly different mouth shape, they blow differently and have various back pressure tolerances, one person may play great using a particular reed and mouthpiece combo whereas someone else would sound not nearly as good.
In order to not to spend a ton of money trying out different saxophone reeds, Vandoren offers an inexpensive sample pack. In Vandoren’s sample pack it offers a V16, red Java, green Java and a ZZ. This allows you to try out a variety of saxophone reeds without having to commit to purchasing 4 separate boxes of reeds.
Alternative Saxophone Reed
An alternative to a wood reed is a synthetic plastic reed. In the past, many of these reeds did not always provide the best quality sound. However, technology has improved to make a better plastic reed that will last forever and are great for marching bands where temperature dries out the reed. I currently have one Legere 2 1/2 plastic reed for my alto and tenor saxes which I use to model music for my middle school band students. I never have to worry about the reed breaking if someone bumps into when it is on its stand. Despite the fact a Legere plastic reed is more expensive than other traditional wood reeds, it pays for itself since I never have to buy another one.
In conclusion, reeds are always are a necessity for saxophone and the one you choose can certainly alter your performing experience. What is the best reed for you? This is certainly a personal preference however, it would be helpful to consider what you are performing for and base your reed purchases based on the cut that gives you the best sound possible.
I want to provide the content credit of this post to instructor Jory Woodis. Jory is part of a fine set of instructors that work at www.musicianstoolkit.com who provide excellent supplemental music education instruction. Please take a moment to check them out.
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Lesson 5: Reed Selection. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://musicianstoolkit.com/course/instrument-care-for-the-saxophone-jory-woodis/reed-selection