Saxophone Reeds – How Wet Is Too Wet ?

If you are new to the wonderful world of learning how to play the saxophone, you may have heard that you need to “wet your reed” before assembling your sax.

The concept is correct – you do need to wet your saxophone reed before you put it onto your mouthpiece and start playing.

However, what on earth does “wet your reed” actually mean ?


How “wet” should you make your saxophone reed ?


Do you spit on it or drown it in saliva ?

Do you put it in a glass of water three days before you actually want to play it ?

Do you take it out into the back yard and turn the garden hose onto it ?

Can I make my reed too wet ?

The short answer here is no – you can’t really make a reed too wet.  However, in the same breath, there is no need to drown it in saliva or water either.

Perhaps the better phrasing might be that you need to “moisten your saxophone reed” or that you need to “moisten your saxophone reed” before playing.


Why do I need to moisten my saxophone reeds before I play ?


Great question !  (even if I do say so myself… 😉 )

Reeds are made of wood – and usually specifically made of bamboo or cane.  They are naturally quite hard – all wood is.

(Note – there are some synthetic or plastic reeds available, but in my opinion these feel weird and take extra effort to control.  These do not need to moistened before playing.)

The reed is the component of your saxophone that actually makes the sound.

The mouthpiece is really only a mechanism to hold the reed.  Yes, there is a bit more to it than that as far as mouthpieces are concerned, such as the physics of the hollow chamber inside the mouthpiece.  But when it comes down to it in simplistic terms, the mouthpiece really only helps the reed do what the reed is intended for.

The reed itself vibrates up and down.  It physically moves – and this movement causes sound.  If you pluck a guitar string, especially the low E string, you can actually see it vibrating.  The reed on a saxophone is exactly the same concept as a string on a guitar.

The saxophone body is really only an amplification and tone adjustment mechanism to control the sound produced by the reed.

It is difficult to get stiff and hard things, like wooden saxophone reeds, to vibrate enough to make a noise – particularly a musical sound worthy of learning how to control and then actually controlling it.

Quite simply, by moistening your saxophone reed, you are making it easier to play !

The moisture makes it softer.  And therefore this makes it easier for you to start it vibrating with a combination of your breath and your embouchure (face/mouth muscles).


So, how do I actually moisten my reeds ?


A simple lick on both sides will do the job nicely.

Lick it like you would lick a postage stamp (does anyone remember postage stamps ?!?).

Or lick it your favourite ice cream in an ice cream cone.

Or, better yet, a brief suck like you would taste a lollipop is more than enough.

Suck your saxophone reed like you would suck your finger after dipping it into something yummy that you are making and want to taste in the kitchen.

Another option is to put your reed in a glass of water for a minute or two.  Especially if they are brand new out of the box.

Like all things, there are many arguments on the internet about the “best way” to do X.  This includes moistening, wetting your reed each time your play, as well as breaking in new saxophone reeds.  My philosophy is to make things as easy as possible for yourself.

It is quicker and easier to just stick your reed in your cake hole and give it a bit of a suck !


Your reed will get wetter as you play, simply though the moisture in your breath.

Saxophone Reeds – How Wet Is Too Wet ?

This is a good thing and is totally natural.  If you stop to think about it too much then maybe, yes, it might be a little icky…. but only a little !

If you are playing your saxophone for hours at a time, it might be worth taking the reed off every now and then and giving it a bit of a wipe to get rid of the excess moisture build up.  But only if you can be bothered !


How To Clean A Saxophone Reed.


When you pack up your saxophone, don’t forget to take your reed off your mouthpiece and CAREFULLY wipe it (both sides) on your trouser leg or skirt at around thigh level.

Your mother will hate this – all mothers do, so don’t tell her or let her see you doing it.

But, by removing the excess moisture you will prolong the life of your reed and go a small way to making it a little more hygienic for you to use next time.

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