How to Adjust Saxophone Reeds

When you play the saxophone, you should expect to have some trouble with your reeds. Finding a reed that produces a great sound is one hurdle but, even if you find the perfect set of reeds, you’ll still have to adjust them so you can achieve the sound you want. There are numerous ways to adjust saxophone reeds, but one of the best options is to be flexible about where you place the reed and the ligature on the mouthpiece. Even a subtle change in one direction or another can make a big difference. Below you’ll find a step-by-step guide for adjusting your saxophone reeds.

Step 1: Find the Right Reeds

To find the reed that works best, make your choice from a box of professional reeds that have been soaked in lukewarm water for about five minutes. Test each reed by playing in the middle and lower registers to determine if a reed is soft, medium, or hard. What you want is a reed that seems hard at first; once you break it in, it will feel medium. Allow your reeds to dry completely, and do this entire process again. After a few days, you’ll have several reeds that have a great performance quality; the rest of the reeds you can use while you practice. If you start out with a box of ten reeds, expect about eight of them to be playable. One or maybe two of those reeds will offer a superior sound quality. Store your reeds in a case that has an activated charcoal filter, which will keep your reeds moist without allowing them to mold.

Step 2: Place the Reed on the Ligature

Begin with a reed that is wet; you can wet it using saliva or water. This moisture is important because it helps form a seal between the reed and the mouthpiece. Place the ligature on the mouthpiece, and then slide the reed under the ligature. Putting the reed on first and then sliding the ligature over the top could actually chip the reed, so be careful how you proveed. Align the reed carefully on the mouthpiece and then tighten the ligature. You want the reed to fit snugly on the mouthpiece, but you don’t want it to be too tight. Once you find the perfect medium, move on to step three.

Step 3: Adjust your Reed

Many experts recommend using sandpaper, reed knives, or a reed rush to adjust your reed. While they do offer some benefits, they are not as effective as simply re-positioning your reed on the ligature. This will allow you to make changes based on temperature and humidity without permanently altering the structure of the reed, meaning you can readjust once the temperature and humidity levels change again.

When you’re adjusting your saxophone reed, the way you move your reed depends on the problem that you’re having.

  • If the reed is too hard or if the sound is too dull, move your ligature down and your reed up slightly. This makes it easier for the reed to vibrate against the mouthpiece.
  • If the reed is too soft or if the sound is too edgy, move the tip of the reed up slightly and then move the ligature down a little bit. This makes the reed more resistant to the vibration, which should give you the sound you want.
  • If there’s not enough resistance or the response is too quick, leave the reed where it is and move the ligature slightly down.
  • If there’s too much resistance of the response is too slow, leave the reed where it is and move the ligature slightly up.
  • If the reed is hard but your saxophone’s tone is still too bright, move the tip of the reed down a little bit and leave the ligature in the same place. The reed will vibrate with more ease, and the tone will soften.
  • If the reed is soft and your tone is dull, move the tip of the reed up while keeping the ligature in place. This will make the reed more resistant, which will lighten up the tone.
  • If the reed seems to play well, but the tone isn’t how you like it, it might be necessary to clip the tip of the reed. Clip a tiny amount at a time, because clipping too much means you have to throw the reed away.

If you find yourself having trouble adjusting your reeds, especially the first time, let your music teacher know. They should be able to guide you through the process.


Struggling with embouchure? Check out Saxophone Embouchure: Tips for Beginners. 


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