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Jazz Sax Lessons: Reeds, Reeds & More Reeds

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Okay, reeds reeds and more reeds.
The dreaded reed conversation.
This is the topic that when two saxophone
players are sitting around at dinner and
are the only two saxophone players,
and they start talking about reeds.
And everybody else seems to want
to call for the check right away,
cuz it's the most boring topic
to anybody else known to man.
But for us saxophone players, it's still
boring but it's crucially important.
So as a beginning player,
choosing your reed is pretty basic.
You wanna make sure, whether you're
choosing Vandoren reeds, Rico reeds,
there's quite a few out there, that
you choose one that feels comfortable.
Reeds are expensive and
they don't last forever.
So you want to make the most out
of each reed that you choose.
But you do have to realize that it's not
like I don’t know if a guitar string
is a good analogy but it's a natural thing
because they wear out quite quickly.
I had this one lesson with
I did a clinic actually,
and after the clinic this
mom came up to me and
said my son Billy just starting to play.
He's been playing for about a year and
a half now and he started off and
he sounded good at the beginning.
And lately he's really been struggling.
And I said,
well what kind of reeds is he using.
And she said, well what do you mean?
And I said, well the reed.
The piece of wood that you
put on your mouthpiece.
When you change that,
what kind of reeds is he playing.
And she said,
you're supposed to change those?
[LAUGH] And so, I thought okay,
well first of all,
you want to get your son to a doctor
right away, cuz there could be some
kind of crazy biology experiment going
on inside his mouthpiece at this point.
Anyway, so when you choose your reeds,
just make sure in terms of strength,
that you choose one
that feels comfortable.
In general I would suggest
if you're going to
play a Vandoren reed
something around two and
a half, that's what I use actually.
A general size.
The reed strength is all dependant
on the size of your mouth piece.
So, if you have a softer reed but
you have a very wide open mouthpiece.
So, your mouthpiece is an eight or
a nine, a two read in general is
gonna feel much harder so.
And conversely if your
mouthpiece is much smaller,
then a soft reed is gonna feel lighter.
So most people,
your mouthpiece is probably like a five or
a six if you're just starting out.
And so again, not too soft, not too hard,
just what feels comfortable
to play is important.
And so,
you want to make sure too that very
often people want to work on your reeds.
I went through my phase
of working on reeds.
I go through a lot of reeds, so my
personal thing is that I feel like a reed
feels the best straight out of the box,
without messing with it too much.
But, if a reed,
again their expensive and so
you wanna do your most to make
each read get as close to play
even better then it did even
if it feels pretty good.
So a couple of points.
So the points that I'm thinking of in
terms of having you work on are right
here in the rails.
You can see first of all how just
in the shadowing of the light where
the thicker part of the reed is and
where it thins out.
And very often that's
not gonna be too even.
A good reed by the way is gonna have
a lot of good fiber content, and
the fibers are going to be nice and even.
And it's thick,
even fibering through the whole reed.
And so you wanted the two points
arc down here in on the rails,
either side, or up here on the tip points.
Again you wanna avoid the middle or
the heart of the reed, but
here the tips on either side, boom, boom.
And so you can take your reed brush,
or your sandpaper, or
your Reed Geek and just file down
a little teeny bit, right in these parts.
And again the sides, inside the rails,
and the two points right up here.
Not the tip, but down about an eighth of
an inch in there, and never in the middle.
And so
you can judge by looking at the reed and
just simply go by the shadowing and
shape it that way.
But always be testing your reed,
make sure that you're playing it and
you're never taking off more.
Less is better, more is bad.
Again, it's not like a haircut.
It’s not gonna grow back.
So, just, take your sand paper, just do a
little teeny bit, maybe one or two swipes,
and put it back on the mouth piece and
in your mouth, and give it a whirl.
And keep doing that process
until you think you've
got the maximum cut on the reed.
And then at, as far as the points,
down towards the tip of the reed,
you can file those as well.
It's gonna be a little bit more difficult
because that's a thinner part of the reed,
to tell which side would
require a little bit of work.
But what I do, actually when I'm playing,
is I'll go side to side.
[SOUND] And just sort of
mess with it a little bit.
If you're a beginning player,
this is all moot.
I wouldn't start messing with reeds
until you've been playing for awhile,
because you're just not gonna be used to
how its a pretty subtle things what I'm
talking about these little differences.
And so at a beginning player,
I would just put on a reed that
feels comfortable and go for it.
If you’re more experienced of a player and
you can start shaping reeds and
see that gets you.
It's a bit of a trial and error,
but those points are good.
Wetting a reed is another
crucial thing too, to be aware,
and how to keep your reed wet.
Again, you ask 10 different people,
they're gonna give you 10
different answers, all valid.
But one thing's certain,
that if, once a reed gets wet,
it should stay wet, it should stay
consistently at the same moisture content.
Because once a reed gets wet, and
then it dries out, and then you take it,
put it away if you stop playing.
Start playing again it gets wet,
dry it out,
it's gonna wear out way
faster than if it stays wet.
So my process after I'm done playing,
play for a little while.
I played.
So, now I'm done, right?
So, what I like to do is the following.
I'll take off my ligature.
Take off the reed.
Invariably there's gonna be
a little moisture on there, so
I clean it off very lightly.
On the corner, you can see that,
at the corner of my mouthpiece, and
just very lightly scrape off
all the moisture and stuff.
Put the ligature on,
put it all back together like that.
I'll put my mouthpiece cap
back on the mouthpiece.
Take off my neck and wrap everything up.
I have a little towel that
I wrap all the stuff up on.
Put it back in the bell, and
put it back in the case just like that.
So you cleaned your reed, so it's not
gonna be too terribly wet or dirty.
Thing is, next time you play,
it's gonna be very similar,
assuming that you play in the next day.
Note to how it felt when
you stopped playing.
When I do that process of putting
my mouthpiece cap back on,
wrapping the whole thing up in a towel or
whatever, putting it in the bell and
closing the case,
it acts as its own humidifier.
The moisture in the reed
is enough to keep it wet.
It works every time.
So, once I put the horn back together,
if I play the next morning, it feels
like it just did the night before.
If you don't play every day, then,
you still wanna try to keep
your reed as wet as possible.
One thing I would suggest,
maybe, is to take your reed off,
put it in the little plastic sleeve
it came in and put that in a baggie.
I take a little, tiny piece of paper
towel, moisten it up a tiny bit and
put it in the baggie and seal the baggie.
And that way,
you've got a little humidifier.
If you want to spend some money you
can buy a real live humidifier.
There are lots of things to
choose from that'll work.
My personal experience is that
the simpler ideas tend to work just as
well if not better,
than the really expensive options.
But anyway,
there you go there are some ideas.
Like everything if you've got any
questions which inevitably I guarantee
you will, regarding reeds, please shoot
me a video and I'll give you my answer.
Alrighty, good luck.