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Discussion Starter #1
This may have been a thread already but after a search, I didn't see it. I'd like to know how you know when it's time to try a 3 when you've been playing on a 2 1/2 and also does the tightness of the embouchure change and require more strength? I ask because I bought a bunch of different reeds. This is probably a distraction, since I am just learning, but I yearn to feel that I have the best reed and strength. I like the Legères, but have cane from Rico, Vandoren blue and some black coated Plasticovers. I also bought a Vandoren 3. My theory is to play through them over a two hour session, then at the end do a few minutes a day with the 3 as an exercise. Is this a positive or negative value in your opinions? My feeling is that it's harder to produce a note on the 3, but tightening the mouth seems to make it easier.

Should the mouth muscles change in effort with a stronger reed, or is it just a matter of breath?
 

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Yes, the harder reed requires more effort with the mouth muscles and more breath on your current mouthpiece.
Trying different brands, cuts, strengths is fun. BUT... As a beginner it's usually best to stay with a brand and strength that does NOT cause you to use extra pressure. That only leads to a bad habit called biting.
If the 2.5's are working for good tone, articulation, and comfortable mouth muscles (it's called your embouchure) stay with them.
 

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... As a beginner it's usually best to stay with a brand and strength that does NOT cause you to use extra pressure. That only leads to a bad habit called biting.

If the 2.5's are working for good tone, articulation, and comfortable mouth muscles (it's called your embouchure) stay with them.
+1. And a 2.5 isn't really a 'soft' reed; it's pretty middle of the road. Many players move to reeds that are too hard, only to back off and move to a softer reed (sometimes after years) once they have a well-developed air stream. Best to stick with a medium strength reed for now and work on getting a good sound and on your technique. In the future you can experiment with different strength reeds and see what suits you best, but it won't do you much good now.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
As a beginner it's usually best to stay with a brand and strength that does NOT cause you to use extra pressure. That only leads to a bad habit called biting.
Thanks, Mom! Seriously, I get that biting thing totally, I was thinking a few minutes a day might be helpful. I'll watch the bite carefully. My logic is the same as exercises like holding a pencil in the mouth. That drove my wife batty, but I didn't do it too long. It did seem to give me more strength.

In other reed posts, I also noticed that some players stay at 2 1/2 even when they're advanced pros. It seems like once you're confident and skilled, you can just pick what you want for the sound you want. My problem is that I have so much music in my head from 50+ years of listening to great saxophone playing, the hardest part is staying simple and following the good advice here.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
@JL, appreciate the feedback. You think it's a bad idea to get the physical exercise at the end of practicing? Say no more than 5 minutes?
I could swear I started on a 2 1/2 on clarinet in 5th grade, but that was mid 20th century, I may be incorrect. Incidentally, I also bought a Vandoren Blue 2 to check it out.
 

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This may have been a thread already but after a search, I didn't see it. I'd like to know how you know when it's time to try a 3 when you've been playing on a 2 1/2 and also does the tightness of the embouchure change and require more strength? I ask because I bought a bunch of different reeds. This is probably a distraction, since I am just learning, but I yearn to feel that I have the best reed and strength. I like the Legères, but have cane from Rico, Vandoren blue and some black coated Plasticovers. I also bought a Vandoren 3. My theory is to play through them over a two hour session, then at the end do a few minutes a day with the 3 as an exercise. Is this a positive or negative value in your opinions? My feeling is that it's harder to produce a note on the 3, but tightening the mouth seems to make it easier.

Should the mouth muscles change in effort with a stronger reed, or is it just a matter of breath?
My personal experience is this. When I start playing again after not playing/practicing for a while I usually go down 1/2 reed strength which depends entirely on the mouthpiece I am using at the time. After a number of hours of playing, the muscle tone in my embouchure returns and I an go back up a 1/2 strength. I try to find reeds with just enough "resistance" to produce a clear and "bell like" tone in the high register (think Desmond, or Rousseau), but at the same time play responsive enough to play the lowest notes p or pp without a subtone. On jazz tenor, I can accept a bit more "buzz" and brightness in the upper register, but I want an even better response on the lowest notes.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thanks saxoclese - is there a "seen" or a thumbs up or something, a way to say "I saw this"?
 

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It sounds like you are primarily interested in using the harder reed as a sort of "trainer" to help build the strength of your embouchure muscles. If that's what you are looking for, I would suggest that there may be better ways to accomplish that. For example, try playing long tones like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaEXxOP7PEM&t=4s
 

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Harder reeds in some cases helps with intonation. If a reed is too soft the intonation may suffer. Follow the advice that the players have shared and use reeds hard enough to give comfortable resistance but not too hard to play. Also experiment with placing the reeds a little higher or lower on the mouthpiece. There are How to "Reed Placement" posts on the web that are very helpful.
 

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Soft reeds are more flexible hence pitchy.
The advantage is being able to scoop up and bend down more than hard reeds.
Hard reeds can make intonation more stable for the inverse reason.
 

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Good points made all around.

The common wisdom is make it easy on yourself. There is real merit to that but I think that can be a way out and has trade offs, mentioned here. Going up a 1/4 or 1/2 strength, all things equal, can do some good things for your sound, IF you recognize that increment and work to make it work. And some bad things if you don't do what it takes to have a good non biting embouchure to make it happen

2.5 to 3.5....no way for most people. .25 or .5 increments?....give it a good honest try; there are distinct upsides!
 

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I would only move up a strength if I was having trouble with notes in the higher range - like the reed closing up or wobbly pitch. Hard reeds do encourage people to develop the "chops of iron", and while it is important to have stamina, it is NOT important to put a lot of pressure on the reed. If you are doing it for strength building I think that's a bad idea, and I recommend you don't do that. It's too easy to develop bad habits.

BTW, you mentioned a #3 Blue Box Vandoren. That is a 3 1/2 for almost any other brand of reed. Blue Box Vandorens are very hard compared to other reeds. So using that as a strength builder is like moving from a 20 lb hand weight to a 300 lb dead lift. Don't do it :) Like lifting weights, the "small weight, many reps" approach is way better than the "big weight" approach. Use your 2 1/2 reeds and do long tones to build your endurance.

Also, I would avoid the Legere or other synthetics for a while. Get used to playing on a cane reed, and just stick with one brand and strength, going up in strength only if the current reeds are too soft to perform well.
 

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@JL, appreciate the feedback. You think it's a bad idea to get the physical exercise at the end of practicing? Say no more than 5 minutes?
The "physical exercise" idea is understandable, but it doesn't really apply here. One could argue that it takes a 'stronger' embouchure and better breath control to play a softer reed, staying in tune and controlling your sound. But really this isn't about building up muscles; it's much more subtle than that. It's a matter of control. My point is, you can gain that control just fine by sticking with one reed strength, rather than jumping up a step at the end of your practice session. IMO, that can only mess you up because you are suddenly changing an important parameter.

No harm in trying a harder reed, but you said you did that without a good result. If you are straining or biting down too much when using the harder reed, then that reed is simply too hard (and yeah, a Vandoren blue box #3 reed is a hard reed). One thing to keep in mind, even the supposedly same strength reeds in a box aren't all the same. And a brand new reed will tend to be harder than one you've played for a while. So you are already having to make minor adjustments from one reed to the next when playing reeds marked as the same strength. No point in making it even less consistent by playing different strengths. After you've been playing for a few years, you'll be able to try some different options and make an informed decision on what works best for you.
 

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'It seems like once you're confident and skilled, you can just pick what you want for the sound you want.'

Nope. In fact, most of us with long experience are pretty much set as far as the resistance we want in a mouthpiece/reed. Professionals don't just decide one day to go up a step in reed strength. In fact they go to great lengths, including making their own reeds, to maintain that level of resistance. If you have a good set-up and want to sound different, you play different.
 

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Counterpoint: I play everything from 2.0 to 4.0. Different reeds for different situations.

Exactly what the OP said.


dat
sax
man
 

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The last two posts above highlight the fact that EXPERIENCED players will vary considerably in how they deal with reeds and other equipment. They will be all over the map. However, for a relative beginner, constantly changing reeds, mpcs, etc, will only mess them up and slow their progress.

FWIW, I'm more in line with 1saxman. To me, a good reed is a good reed, no matter what the situation is. I use the same brand & strength reed all the time. Sure, in the past I used other brands, but once I find what I want I stick with it. I've found I am fine with both 2.5 strong and 3 light Rigotti reeds, but have settled mostly on the 3 light. The difference between those is about 1/4 step, so not major, but still noticeable.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
Many thanks everyone, I wish there was a way to do a plus, like or at least 'seen' for comments on the forum software.
To reply:
What a wealth of experience! Can we count the years experience in the ten who've replied? I'll bet between one and two centuries?
Just to clarify, what I meant about "pick what you like" was the ensemble, MPC, reeds and horn. After enough experience, say a few years, I thought you could pick what you like and go with it.
Thanks to those who mentioned that softer reeds can bring pitch problems. I have an old Nexus 7 tablet whose only use is the Cleartune tuner app. When experimenting with reeds, there's a world of difference in pitch as you all know.
One serious issue I have is that I'm renting the alto. I'd like to experiment with mouthpieces, but it makes no sense until I have an instrument I can keep. I am pondering the investment in a (say) Yamaha beginner ax at under $800. There's a good repair shop in walking distance, so if only I could find a used one, I'd be set.

I know that sax players are nuts with mouthpieces. I've known and played and recorded (guitar) with many, including Red Holloway, Richard Aplan (L.A.) and Bob Rockwell (now in Denmark). I'd bet they bought 100 MPC between them. RIP Red, not that long ago. I only wish I'd started on sax when he was around. I saw Bob last year in Paris with Ben Sidran, he's still smokin'. When I told him as much, he laughed and said he feels like he lost a lot of facility but he knows he's still burning.
 

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A Yamaha "beginner" sax is a lot more than a beginner sax. They are excellent instruments. Ignore the marketing speak about "student", "intermediate" and "professional" models - it's just intended to get people to "upgrade" to more expensive saxophones.
If you can find a used Yamaha that is in good mechanical condition with good pads then that would be a good investment in my opinion.

Some players like experimenting with different mouthpieces, but my teacher has one off-the-shelf mouthpiece and sounds great on it. I have heard a pro classical player produce the loudest and clearest alto sound I have ever heard using a closed-tip Selmer mouthpiece. So in my book it is OK to play around with different mouthpieces for fun - I do it myself and some mouthpieces are nicer to play than others, but don't kid yourself that it will make you play better. A good player will sound good on more-or-less anything.
 

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I strayed out thinking you had to "work your way up" to strong reeds and so I did just that and played 4s for quite a long time. Finally I realize that with better air support and embouchure I could use softer reeds and get just as good a sound but with a lot more flexibility, so I then "worked my way down" and now pay 2.2.5

Paradoxically it can be harder to play soft reeds, but worth the effort to do it well.
 

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A lot of it has to do with facing curves also. If you have a real long facing curve you might be able to play a 3 1/2 or 4 reed. A short facing curve maybe a 2 1/2. I’d be curious how long the curves are on the piece of the guys playing 4s. I would bet they are pretty long..........
 
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