Saxophone Reeds For Beginners
“What are the best saxophone reeds for beginners ?” is a question that I get asked quite often.
In fact, the concept of saxophone reeds for beginners is something that comes to mind almost immediately after someone decides that they want to learn how to play the saxophone !
Without a reed, your saxophone is just a pretty decorative piece of art. A reed is what actually makes the sound. A saxophone is useless without a reed, other than perhaps as a fancy but inconveniently oversized paper weight. You need to get some reeds if you actually want to play some music or make a noise with your sax.
So – the best place to start getting a reed is by looking at your feet.
Saxophone Reeds Are Like Shoes.
Saxophone reeds come in different sizes. They come in different brands.
Shoes are available in different brands and different styles. Shoes can be used for different things – such as sports, or dancing, or formal wear, or casual wear.
Saxophone reeds are similar, although admittedly the differences are not as pronounced as, say, the difference between a hiking boot and a fancy high heeled shoe and a ballerinas slipper.
And, just like shoes, “size 2” in one brand or style does not translate exactly into what is called “size 2” of another brand or style.
Size does matter.
Reeds come in different sizes.
First and foremost, make sure that you get the correct Instrument Sized Reed for your saxophone.
Alto saxophone reeds ONLY fit on alto saxophones. Tenor saxophone reeds ONLY fit on tenor saxophones. Soprano saxophone reeds ONLY fit on soprano saxophones. Bari (Baritone) saxophone reeds ONLY fit on bari saxophones.
No – a clarinet reed does NOT fit onto a saxophone !!
From there, size still comes into play. Saxophone reeds start at size 1 ( one ) and increase by half sizes. The main sizes easily available for purchase are 1.5, 2, 2.5 and 3.
It is possible to get sizes bigger than a 3, but not as easily as wandering down to your local music shop and expecting them to be in stock.
The size number represents the thickness and strength of your saxophone reed.
The smaller the number, the softer the reed is and in most cases the easier it is to play.
The higher the number, the harder the reed is and in most cases the harder it is to play.
In general, saxophone reeds for beginners are usually size 1.5 or 2.
There are other options available – synthetic or plastic or silicone reeds, hybrid reeds made of both wood and plastic, plus a few others. The theory behind these other reed types is good and worthy of exploration from a professional perspective, or maybe an advanced intermediate players perspective, but if you are a beginner then your best bet is to stick to actual cane / wood reeds.
The wooden / cane reeds are easy to find, easy to buy and easy to play. From a beginners perspective, saxophone reeds for beginners are best made from cane.
If you are brand new to the saxophone and have never played it before, then the best saxophone reeds for beginners is a size 1.5. If you’ve been playing only for a few months, but still classify yourself as a beginner, then it might be worth trying a size 2 to see if this helps you take your playing to the next level.
However – as mentioned above, not all size 1.5 saxophone reeds are created equal.
Brands of Reeds.
The main brands of reeds are Rico (and Rico Royal), Vandoren, D’Addario (who actually own Rico) and Legere. There are several other brands who all make perfectly functional saxophone reeds for beginners.
Rico saxophone reeds are cheap(er), easier to find and purchase – either online or at your local music shop, and are easier to play due to their increased flexibility.
Rico Royal saxophone reeds are a fantastic “next step”. If you have been playing saxophone for a year or so, then the next time you need some reeds, consider trying the Rico Royals. The main difference is the precision in their manufacturing. They have a subtly different shape (known as a French cut) and suit a slightly stronger and slightly more experienced embouchure.
As mentioned above, a size 2 Rico reed is NOT the same thickness as a size 2 Vandoren reed, for example. They will feel different, sound different and each will take a few practice sessions or more to get used to, if you are used to playing the other. Yes, if you play a particular size reed of one brand, then trying the equivalent size number of another brand is a good place to start – but it will take some experimentation.
How long should my reed last ?
How long is a piece of string ?
Reeds are fragile – please handle them with care. It is easy to break or split a reed by bumping it, or brushing it against your shoulder or your sleeve, or your lips or your teeth, or your cat or on the chair that you are sitting on.
They can last for days, or weeks, or even months. However, the more you play them the softer (and more fragile) they become. They do wear out from continuous use – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They do need to be replaced on a vaguely regular basis.
A suggestion would be to buy them in bulk, rather than one at a time. Like most things these days, the more you buy, the cheaper the individual price. A box of 10 is usually a much cheaper cost per reed option, than an individual reed or a three pack.
What reed is best for me ?
As a hideously and outrageous general rule, saxophone mouthpieces with a wide tip opening (a wide gap between the tip of the mouthpiece and the tip of the reed) are best paired with softer reeds (lower size numbers).
Again as a hideously and outrageous general rule, saxophone mouthpieces with narrow tip openings (a narrow gap between the tip of the mouthpiece and the tip of the reed) are best if they are paired with harder reeds (higher size numbers).
A softer reed, in general, makes it a little easier to be quiet and breathy with your playing. A harder reed, in general, might be worth experimenting with if you find yourself in a situation where volume and oomph are required.
These generalisations are aimed at intermediate or advanced players.
However, most beginners will likely have a fairly small mouthpiece tip opening on their mouthpieces – such as the Yamaha 4C mouthpiece that came with their saxophone, or via a deliberate but separate purchase. Note – if you are using the default mouthpiece that came with your sax, please check that it is a Yamaha 4C. If it isn’t, please go out and buy a Yamaha 4C mouthpiece. Immediately. Or at least read the review I wrote about them here.
Most beginner saxophone players, through no fault of their own, do not have strong embouchure’s (face and mouth muscles).
Most beginner saxophonists would like to make playing their sax as easy as possible.
The best saxophone reeds for beginners are going to be a smaller size, such as a size 1.5 or maybe a size 2.
I hope this helps explain all about saxophone reeds and helps you make a fantastic start on your saxophone journey !
If you have any questions about saxophone reeds, please let me know in the comments below.
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P.P.S. Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which may result in me getting a microscopic or possibly even non-existent commission, yet cost no more for you if you happen to purchase. I use the reeds mentioned in this article !!! 🙂
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