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Saxophone Reeds Explained: The Nitty Gritty about Reeds

One reed, two reed, three reed, four! Possibly one of the most important things on the saxophone is the little wooden piece that goes on your mouthpiece that actually produces the sound come out of the saxophone. The sound of the saxophone is created by pushing air pressure through the mouthpiece to make the reed vibrate against the mouthpiece. Just like mouthpieces, reeds come in all shapes and sizes and it isn't the strength of reed that you play on that makes you a better player. What makes you a better player is the practice, the technique and dedication. However - the size of the reed is so important that it does affect your tone, pitch, altissimo and your overall sound.


Saxophone players are pretty particular about their reeds. It's almost like a pair of good sneakers, once you find the ones you like, it is hard to change. But bamboo reeds typically have a shelf life and some play longer than others, while some reeds have better bamboo fibers. Then there are plastic reeds, plastic reeds are all the same, they do not have fibers and they do not need to be moist to vibrate against your mouthpiece.


Plastic Reed Breakdown

Plastic reeds are an effective way to remove all of the tedious preparation it takes to get your bamboo reed ready to play. If you are not into the maintenance and preparation it takes to fix your reeds, wet your reeds and care for your reeds - then the plastic reed is for you. The plastic reed is ready to play out of the box and does not need to be moist to make a seal on your mouthpiece. These reeds typically play louder than a bamboo reed and you don't have to be as careful with them because they are less likely to break. Plastic reeds do come in different sizes and colors, so if you are interested in playing a plastic reed -try a few out and find the one that best fits your style of playing. With a plastic reed, you pretty much practice and perform on the same reed.


Wood Reed Breakdown

Wooden or Bamboo reeds are the traditional type of reed and yes, they can take a bit to prepare. Bamboo reeds need a little maintenance and they are not ready to play out of the box. Additionally, each reed is slightly different depending on the fibers within the reed and how strong or long those fibers are. Reeds are typically made out of Bamboo and can be shaved, shaped, and sanded to a musicians preference. Traditional style reeds come in different sizes and styles and have a tendency to have a shorter shelf life the more you play on a single reed. This is were a saxophonist may have a set of reeds for practicing and a set of reeds for performing. Usually, the practice reeds are the ones that the saxophonist is breaking in and working on, whereas their performing reed is one that is already broke in, has been worked on and the musician is confident playing on that reed in any performance.

Bonus Video

Watch the video below to learn more about how to prepare and maintain saxophone reeds.




Bonus Tip

Reed players usually have a spare or back up performing reed on stage with them at all times. Your reed can die or become end of life during the middle of a performance. Keeping a few extra performing reeds on stage with you will make it easier to switch out a reed that chips, breaks during a performance.

In review, there are two main types of reeds you can use on your saxophone, plastic and bamboo. We covered the benefits of each and the maintenance/ preparation each reed takes to become a usable reed.


Do you prefer to play on a plastic reed or a bamboo reed?

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