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  1. #1

    Default What reed strength for beginners?

    Hi, folks. I'd really appreciate any advice the experienced teachers out there can give me.

    I'm a 31-yr sax veteran, and my 6th grader is just starting on alto. I worked with her some over the summer, and now she is getting lessons through the her school. Her teacher wants her (and the other kids) to start with a Rico 3 reed. This seems to me to be pretty hard for kids who are just starting out.

    Questions: Has there been some major change in embouchure pedagogy between when I started and now? (I started on 1-1/2, went pretty quickly to 2, then gradually worked my way up.) Are there benefits to this "start hard" approach that I just don't know about yet?

    I have a few concerns about this. First, if it's such hard work just to get a sound, how are they going to enjoy making music? Will this lead to a higher drop-out rate? Second, when I play a reed that is too strong for me (on my particular mouthpiece), I have to compensate by doing improper things with my embouchure. How can they learn a correct embouchure if they're having to play something that is too hard for their poor little beginner chops? I don't want my daughter to learn an incorrect embouchure and then have trouble progressing later. There are other concerns, but these are the biggies.

    So, what about that reed strength? Oh, and the teacher is primarily a clarinet player. Are there things I should watch for that a clarinetist might incorrectly carry over to saxophone?

  2. #2


    1.5 would be a good starting place 2 would be a good ending place (as I am finding out now 20 years later).
    Well you should probably discuss this with the teacher. If you say something and he says another your kid will be very confused. But if he is open and knows that he is a biter - I mean clarinetist then he should realize that a relaxed embrochure is best for sax players. My teachers (sax savvy) taught me to be firm and would actually test you by gently moving the neck while I was playing to see if it would move easily. If it moved they said BITE.
    So I ended up being a biter - now I am trying to unlearn this.
    It's a tough call because you think about marching band and all the torture that causes - you need a tight grip then or else the sax sounds like crap.
    I would definitely discuss this wiht the teacher tho.
    I didn't start playing 3's til 9th grade. I was peelin paint then!

  3. #3


    Exiled92 -- I think you should trust your instincts. Your penultimate paragraph really nailed the situation, IMO.

    Re: the clarinetist issue -- Interesting question. On the one hand, my first "real" teacher was mainly a clarinetist, but the only point at which that became something of a liability was when it came to knowledge of sax repertoire (he knew the essentials, but not much beyond that). But he was a great musician, and really knew what he was doing as far as technique. OTOH, I used to teach at a school where the other sax teacher was a clarinetist, and he and I used to argue all the time because he started all the beginners on Vandoren 2-1/2's. "It'll strengthen their embouchure muscles," he'd say -- something which seemed completely misguided to me (from both technical and motivational standpoints). Like you said, if they have trouble getting a sound, what's going to make them want to continue? Plus, having the kids spend all that money on Vandorens... especially beginners, who are so apt to have "accidents" with their equipment...

  4. #4


    Thanks, folks. I guess I'm not a stone-age idiot!

    My first teacher, a retired band director, was also a clarinetist, but all the first chair players in our town - including brass! - were his students. He knew how to teach MUSIC, not just playing notes. I value many good things I learned from him, but I also think I learned a somewhat screwy embouchure - too much lower lip tucked in. I'm still trying to correct that, though as a hobbyist and without help from a teacher.

    Yesterday, the teacher passed out these potentially evil 3 reeds. The one I played last night seemed to be pretty soft, and responded easily on the C*, but that's for me. I didn't get a chance to watch and listen to my daughter try it, though. She told us that a large part of the lesson time at school yesterday was spent with one kid who couldn't get any sound without puffing out his cheeks. My immediate response (which I kept to myself - don't want my daughter to parrot things to the teacher and get in trouble) was that it would be less of a problem with A SOFTER REED.

    I'm going to talk to the teacher tonight at the school open house and try to find out what her philosophy is, and to discern (nicely!) whether it makes any sense. I just hope I get something more than "I've been doing this for X years, and it works fine", i.e. I'm a music teacher and you're not, so shut up and don't interfere. I think, as in any other field, there are a variety of personalities and levels of arrogance and rigidity. I really don't know where this director will fall. People are, by and large, pretty nice around here, so I'm optomistic. If I learn something about the "start hard" approach, I'll report back.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    May 2004
    so Oregon


    I up graded to pro, meaning expensive mouthpieces, for alto and tenor...and the first thing I learned was that #3 reeds had to go...

    I had to back off to #2 and some of these I take sandpaper too...but the result is a hell'va sound. These open mouthpieces really wall with a big bright sound, all the way up and down, but they won't do that will stiff reeds.

    The reed has to fit the mouthpiece, not theory...

  6. #6
    Distinguished SOTW Member Razzy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Great Eastern Crossroads


    Quote Originally Posted by usda
    I up graded to pro, meaning expensive mouthpieces, for alto and tenor...

    Most of the pros I know and work with use closer mouthpieces such as the Meyer 5 or 6 and Selmer D or E, low-cost mouthpieces in my book. And they get a plenty bright sound out of those setups. I begin to wonder why this thread was revived almost a year later, but I guess this topic could use some more discussion now that the world has changed! Well, not that much I guess.

    I started on 2's. I think I moved to 2.5 and then to 3 too quickly, and had to go back to 2.5 for a few months. Finally I moved to 3 again and have remained there for a while. That information means nothing if you don't know what saxophone I play or what mouthpiece! I play alto with a current production Meyer 5M. So my setup is pretty moderate as far as toughness goes. I know guys who play 4's and more closed mouthpieces and get a much brighter, bigger sound than me. They've also been playing for about 12 more years professionally

    No shortcuts here, really. It sounds like the original teacher in question was doing the thing of today's society by thinking the kids could jump in and learn instantly (or perhaps he just likened saxophone to clarinet a bit too much, as starting clarinet players on 3's is customary from what I've seen). Not going to happen. It's very detrimental, and I know from my own experience that moving up in strength too quickly only causes problems. I had to go back and relearn my embouchure.

    That said I also believe there is too much emphasis placed on embouchure. Air support is equally if not more important. Without the air support to back it up, no way that embouchure will be relatively relaxed and firm. It'll get all bunched and weird, and biting may occur. It usually takes young students a long time to understand this, since the embouchure is much more visible than all the air things going on inside. It takes longer to develop air support than embouchure muscles, at least it did for me, mostly because I didn't realize what air support actually was until I was doing it all the time and had to keep constantly reminding myself of it; only then did my embouchure muscles begin to develop and settle properly.

    A teacher who can give a good concept of air support combined with the proper embouchure starting on a SOFT setup will get tons of results tone-wise with their beginning students.

  7. #7
    Distinguished SOTW Member and Forum Contributor 2007 Morry's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2003


    I think that a #3 reed is entirely too hard for a beginner. A kid starting out on sax needs to be able to generate a tone fairly quickly and easily to remain optimistic about their progress. A reed that strong is just going to make it harder for them at the beginning. An old player friend of mine said that when he was taking lessong from Santy, he told him to play the softest reed he could control. Sometimes I think I should be playing something a little softer than these 3 hard.
    JK SX90R Gold Lacquer over Nickel Alto
    JK SX90R Clear Lacquer Tenor

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  8. #8
    Mouthpiece Refacer Extraordinaire and Forum Contributor 2007-2010 EZ's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2004


    I just started with a new student. He is using #2 reeds and it is working out great. I actually don't think #1.5's are a good starting point as beginners don't have enough wind and embouchre strength/control to prevent the sound from coming out "goosey" and LOUD. It's good for the reed to have enough stiffness that the student has to learn and develop proper embouchre for decent sound to come out. The #1.5 might just instill laziness from the get-go, though it might be appropriate for an experienced person on the right mouthpiece - maybe with a 10 facing or something...

    Pardon the generalization, but I think saxophone students are encouraged to go to #3's for the same reason they are encouraged to use C* facings - so they don't overpower the ensemble.

  9. #9


    Haha if you want to here something ridiculous..........At my school the teachers wanted the whole beginning sax section to be playing on traditonal vandoren 4's by the end of the FIRST year. This is why I didn't listen to them very much Oh yea, they also made everyone buy a C *.


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