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Having gotten back into sax a couple years ago, this is one thing I can't really figure out. I'm not interested in being the macho-est sax player playing on the hardest reed. I'm more curious about what it is that signals to you all that you need to move up (or down) in strength. Is it tone? feel? something else.

(For reference: I'm playing red box Java 2.5 on a tenor STM that's been refaced to .105. But also, I know everybody's different, so I'm less interested in what the appropriate strength for that size than what indicates to you that you're using the wrong strength.)
 

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Keilwerth saxes (S/A/T), Selmer clarinets (S/B), Altus Azumi flute
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That sounds about right, depending on who has done the refacing and the curve that they used. I play 7* ish (0.105) openings on Link-ish mouthpieces and I tend to use 2.5 - 3.0 Red Java equivalents, depending on the specific mouthpiece and facing curve.

I think that the key is really just what feels comfortable. Does the reed sometimes feel like it's closing up on you? Do you have trouble getting volume without the tone getting bright and blatty? Is it hard to control the pitch? Are the palm key notes and altissimo hard to get out consistently? Are large intervals a problem?

If so, you might need to go up a half strength. If not, then you're probably fine. It's often a good idea to bracket and experiment. Don't limit yourself to just one strength. I tend to keep reeds that are slightly too soft and slightly too hard (I use Rigotti's, so it's not quite a half strength up or down). Some days a slightly softer reed just feels better and other days a slightly harder reed feels better.
 

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I have the same issue. Some days the same reed feels to soft and some days the very same reed feels too hard and it’s very confusing. If you get a good answer to this question I would be interested in it!
 
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R&C 2V Sop, YAS61S, YTS61S, YBS62.
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Does the reed sometimes feel like it's closing up on you? Do you have trouble getting volume without the tone getting bright and blatty? Is it hard to control the pitch? Are the palm key notes and altissimo hard to get out consistently? Are large intervals a problem?

Some days a slightly softer reed just feels better and other days a slightly harder reed feels better.
^^^This^^^
😊
 

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What @mmichel said is right. If the reed closes up, meaning you have to “baby” it by keeping your jaw loose, especially when playing in the palm keys, then it’s too soft (or worn out). Conversely, if you have to blow hard to get the reed to sound, especilly in the low register, it’s too hard.

However that’s not the whole story, as Sonja so eloquently stated. Reeds change. The weather (humidity) changes. And humans have good days and bad days.

The real answer to these problems is two-fold. First, once you have determined the best strength (and maybe brand), learn to adjust your reeds for balance. A slightly unbalanced reed that you can blow through on a good day may be unplayable on a bad day. So balance your reeds, and make sure the back is flat - I have found that it’s best to do this with new reeds, and not break them in, but YMMV.

Second, rotate reeds and play a different one every day. This helps in two ways; you get used to dealing with minor response and tonal variations (remember, it’s YOUR sound, not the reed’s!) and different environments may call for slightly different strengths (loud gig vs. evening practice).
 

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Second, rotate reeds and play a different one every day.
I do this using a 4-slot holder and jot quick notes on the iPhone notepad like
"reed 4 10/12 felt hard
reed 2 10/13 squeaking- too soft?"

Then when I go back the next day and pick reed 2, if it seems too soft, I know that reed 4 might be harder. Over time I kind of know which ones are which way until one stops having good days and I throw it out and a new one goes in that slot.

And FWIW this wasn't my idea, I took it from this guy (just not as intense):
 

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Wow... I'd love to know from seasoned players if many choose which reeds to use based on the weather... sounds a bit intense.
It does seem like a lot! But I found the general idea helpful during a cold spell where the heater was drying everything out and I noticed some reeds were responding differently than when the air was more humid. Reeds that were great during the previous week didn't seem to be good anymore and I was really confused. When the weather changed back, they became easy to play again. I don't fully understand it, but taking the notes helps keep track of what's working and what isn't.
 

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I have the same issue. Some days the same reed feels to soft and some days the very same reed feels too hard and it’s very confusing. If you get a good answer to this question I would be interested in it!
If a reed that played well one day and feels hard and stuffy, try scraping the back of the reed to make sure it's perfectly flat and getting a good seal on the mouthpiece.
 

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I can immediately tell if a reed is too hard or soft for me. I wish I could explain how, but it's one of those things that's just obvious too me. A reed that takes a lot of effort and is fatiguing to my embouchure, it's too hard. A reed that takes very little effort and closes up when pushed is too soft. So it depends on your level of playing and comfort zone. If you have a very weak embouchure and weak air support as a beginner or physically challenged player would have, then your just right reed would be far too soft for me. On the other end of the spectrum, I'd never be able to get a sound out of the kinds of reeds Branford or Grover play since they apparently have chops of steel.

I'm way too lazy to rotate or pick reeds based on the weather. Since the inside of my mouth is always like a rain forest, the outside conditions really don't matter. And rather than rotate, I just audition 4 good reeds whenever I run low, and play the best one until it dies, then move on to the next one until I run low, then start all over again.
 

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I don't believe there is a "right or wrong" strength. It is each player's preference. My criteria are the amount of resistance I want to blow against and the timbre of the sound---brightness, buzziness, etc. for the particular style of music I am playing. I have found generally that when I am practicing/playing regularly it feels comfortable moving up a 1/2 strength as my embouchure strengthens.
 

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Since the inside of my mouth is always like a rain forest, the outside conditions really don't matter.
Ok so this is what I would also think intuitively, but there’s no denying that it’s just not the same summer and winter. Summer I can dip the reed in the glass a couple seconds and it’s ready right away. Last winter when the heat was cranking I couldn’t get almost any reed to stop squeaking unless I soaked it for 15 minutes. It doesn’t make sense to me, like is there some extra microscopic-level moisture that’s being robbed by the dry air that needs replacing? Is it me drying out? (I do get the chapped lips etc…)
 

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Ok so this is what I would also think intuitively, but there’s no denying that it’s just not the same summer and winter. Summer I can dip the reed in the glass a couple seconds and it’s ready right away. Last winter when the heat was cranking I couldn’t get almost any reed to stop squeaking unless I soaked it for 15 minutes. It doesn’t make sense to me, like is there some extra microscopic-level moisture that’s being robbed by the dry air that needs replacing? Is it me drying out? (I do get the chapped lips etc…)
I guess I've never experienced such extreme conditions where I live. I also have a whole house humidifier I run in the winter. My reeds play the same all year round whether it's freezing outside or blazing hot. But I definitely have to work a lot harder to keep them wet in the extremes when they dry out very quickly, especially outdoors.
 

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I didn’t know I needed to use a harder reed until today. I settled on softer reeds a while ago and thought that setup must be the best for me. But after practicing for a while and struggling with my intonation, I decided to try a different reed. Today I used a Vandoren Blue Box 2.5 reed instead of my usual “jazz” reed, a Rigotti 2.5 medium. My intonation got better right away and I felt like my embouchure had improved enough from practicing that I could handle the harder reed. Now I remember why, when I first played the Morgan 7L mouthpiece 20+ years ago, I always used Blue Box reeds. I think I was even using 3’s back then. I just make sure to compress the reed fibers with my fingernail on a flat surface before playing, which makes the reed play less stuffy.
 

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Ok so this is what I would also think intuitively, but there’s no denying that it’s just not the same summer and winter. Summer I can dip the reed in the glass a couple seconds and it’s ready right away. Last winter when the heat was cranking I couldn’t get almost any reed to stop squeaking unless I soaked it for 15 minutes. It doesn’t make sense to me, like is there some extra microscopic-level moisture that’s being robbed by the dry air that needs replacing? Is it me drying out? (I do get the chapped lips etc…)
If the relative humidity changes, so does the equilibrium level of moisture in your reeds - given sufficient time.

OK, so you noticed a change. Good. <no sarcasm>

Regardless of prevailing humidity (which you cannot see), wet the reed until it is ready to play. If it is not ready in two minutes, take a little longer. Try to be more aware of the condition of your reed. Too wet is not good either. I have found that wetting the reed in my mouth until it is ready to play helps find a good equilibrium - not too dry, not too wet.
 

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I have a reed case that holds 12 reeds. Some harder some softer. I’ll try a bunch before a gig to find a reed that I can play fully for 2 hours easy enough to do what I need to do. Some days it’s a 3 or stiffer. Some days 2 . 5. That’s my routine. K
 

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This is really simple. A reed that is too hard to play your usual practice routine is too hard. A reed that is too soft might close up on you if you try to play louder or go up high. 2.5 on that mouthpiece is doing pretty well although when most of the reeds in the 2.5 box seem too soft, it might be time to go to a 3. BUT, different brands of reeds do not necessarily relate on strength, so you will find that you like one brand over another in a certain number. Some 2.5s will be too hard and some might even be too soft.
 

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If I have trouble going higher on the octave above the high c and the reed feels like it's tightening up/closing, does that mean I need a stronger reed?
It could be you.
 
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