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So, I watch WAY too much YouTube. One of the tubers that I subscribe to is Jennett Ingle, the Five Minute Reedmaker. She is an oboist and teacher somewhere in the midwest (Indiana? Illinois? Can’t remember…). Wait you say - this is a saxophone forum, why are you talking about an oboist? Because she talks about reeds in a very sensible and thoughtful way, and has a lot to say that applies equally well to us single reed devotees.

The main points I get from this video are that you need to deal with reeds as they are (tweaking to suit of course), and deal with yourself as YOU are, in the now. That means playing a different reed every day, having several reeds ready to go at all times, and being able to play on reeds that may not be perfect. In other words, you play the reed, not the other way round. Hope you enjoy the video


Please respond with your thoughts.
 

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I tell beginners that double reed players learn their instrument messing with reeds. I know I never learned until later, and I wish I had known sooner, as I would have saved many reeds and played better. Frequently new players are told that plastic reeds are the way to go. It takes me more time to place a Legere on the sweet spot than cane. Cane takes more time to work than a synthetic. Net outcome is equal time for set up. But cane has more character.
 

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That’s been my strategy on clarinet, I’m playing a show right now and I have a bunch of reeds along and check in each day to see which ones are feeling the best. This is after a small period of breaking in, mostly playing small amounts and letting them dry over the course of a few days. I used to try and get the reed perfect but inevitable that it would change and I would struggle. I’m playing a set up now that is more friendly to softer reeds and I find that I can make do more easily on a reed that’s in the ballpark but might not be really close to perfect. I have been narrowing it down to 4 that feel the best, and go with one of those. I ended up switching last night after my first choice really went south and just died midway through the first act. Good to have a couple other options.
 

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I’ve found with clarinet that going the softer reed route is the way to go but you’d better be practicing or your intonation will be all over the place. An open clarinet mouthpiece isn’t a great idea but a medium open with a 2 or 2 1/2 seems comfortable for me.
I’ve been playing clarinet a lot more this year and I’ve noticed for the first time in a while I actually have to pull out a little when before I always felt to be on the flat side.
I always have five or six reeds I know will play when I get to the gig. It seems working with finding some good reeds is most of my practicing any more since I’ve been playing almost every night lately.
I’ve finally found a really good “reed friendly“ mouthpiece. A Kessler Custom 7** I took a chance on from eBay. It outplays my vintage Tone Edges in some ways. It’s a little brighter, which I like, but still feels like a Link since they’re made at the Babbitt factory.
It’s always easier for me to play a brighter mouthpiece dark than vice versa.
 

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Yes, I am liking my current mpc which is around an M30 opening I think? Plays great with a reed that’s kind of between a 2 1/2 and a 3. Depends on the context if I choose a reed on the harder or softer end of that range.
 

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“Your reed is your responsibility but not something you can control” is legit some deep life advice.
 

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skeller047, thanks for the video link. Good perspective.

I recently came off a year or two of using synthetics all the time. They're easy, convenient, consistent, reliably ready to slap on & blow -- even when setup is rushed. But now I'm back to cane, 'coz what interests me currently is expressive nuance, & after six decades of wrangling woodwinds I've finally built up chops capable of expressive nuance.

Yes, each cane reed is unique & distinct, requiring its own particular blow. I've never been great at shaping reeds, so when faced with a recalcitrant one my default strategy has been to glare & sigh in exasperation until it spontaneously becomes playable.

With new & improved chops, I no longer consider myself disadvantaged by the capricious response of cane-stalk slivers. Now I appreciate -- nay, celebrate -- each reed's distinctive demands on my embouchure. Ya want me to blow like that, huh? And in return you'll give me that voice? Well, OK then!

So I'm learning how cane reeds can make my horn romp or whisper, croon or roar. In the woodshed I accept what each reed offers... see how far I can push it... allow it to change me. This ain't slap-on-&-blow. It's more like slow-simmering a goulash, tasting spoonfuls hour by hour as flavors & textures evolve.

Switching back to cane has made me a better listener & more interesting player. No longer must I avoid certain reeds, feeling like a dope for purchasing them. Now I just blow & see what happens. I can handle it, amigo. If stiff reeds do not kill me, they make my chops stronger. Softer reeds allow playful sax stylings not unlike preaching or singing.

It's all good. Cane encourages me to live in the moment, immersed in the sensate experience of stumbling joyfully toward the ultimate destination... or double bar-line, whichever comes first.
 

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Already covered by some: for a sax player the answer is synthetics. They are expensive, especially if you don't already know what works for you as you'd need to buy lots of different ones to find what's best, but worth it. Inconsistency in various conditions? GONE!

I was an oboe player and learned when there were no reeds that could be bought. You had to make your reeds (some oboe players still do?). And yes, they ar emuch more difficult to keep in playable condition than a sax reed. Here's a BIG difference. The oboe reed is an entire fitted piece on a stem. To change it you pull off one end put on the next. A two second job! Try that with a sax reed! So having those extra reeds ready means you can do that almost immediately hardly missing a best. For those who double (pit players) the synthetic is a life saver as there is seldom time to stop and soak a cane reed that's been sitting on the horn for 15 minutes in an air conditioned theater.

If you're at "sopsax's" level (post above) and somehow need whatever extra bit of expression you find in cane, then fine. Whatever works for you and gives you confidence (magic feather syndrome?) is good for you. Could the audience tell the difference between that special cane reed and a synthetic that you liked playing? Very doubtful.

As sax players we have some pretty fantastic synthetics available the eliminate most of the environmental problems. For those who teach, synthetics should be the only recommendation as a beginner has no idea whether they have a good or bad reed, but can get used to something that is consistent. That takes away the basic problem of cane reed inconsistency and allows the student to concentrate on every other aspect of learning. Cane reeds are a "blind spot" for beginners. They don't know what they don't know. As their teacher are you going to take their 1 1/2 reed and try it out to see if it's OK? Not likely. Are you going to continue to try their reed to see when/if it's worn out? Even less likely. Consistency counts for a lot for any level of player.

In the 1960s (when I was learning) we had no choices. You had to work with cane. Was it fun? Well, maybe one got some satisfaction from taking something dreadful and making it OK, but it didn't last all that long, so back to square one. Maybe I'm "different" in thinking that some players embrace the ritual of having to work their reeds. When I want/need to play it's an absolute dream to just pick up the horn and start paying. I know how the reed feels and can immediately play without soaking, adjusting, getting used to the "that" particular reed's inconsistencies etc. and can immediately pick up a different sax voice and play that instrument also knowing the feel of that reed.

For those who (somehow?) like fussing around and "ritual", cane is made for you! I'd rather just pick up a horn and play, anywhere, anytime, no excuses. When/if I'm playing oboe (again) I would be doing exactly as the video shows. A sax isn't an oboe and we fortunately have choices.
 

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Already covered by some: for a sax player the answer is synthetics…

For those who (somehow?) like fussing around and "ritual", cane is made for you! I'd rather just pick up a horn and play, anywhere, anytime, no excuses.
Let me guess, you also prefer pants with an elastic waist and slip-on shoes, and you take care of brushing your teeth only occasionally. Yeah, rituals are a real drag. :cool:

I’ve been playing reeds for 50+ years and it really takes not a lot more attention that tying my shoes. I love the sound I get with cane reeds, and it is worth the very little effort that it requires.

No excuses. I appreciate the mindfulness of wetting a reed and putting it on the mouthpiece. It provides a welcome transition to being in the moment and making music.

Your mileage may vary, and your tone may or may not suck. But no, the answer for a sax player is not exclusively “synthetics”.
 

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Soon as my first $33 Legere started wearing out I was incentivized into the reed adjustment business. Nothing to lose. With every reed I adjust I get smarter about it. My only problem now is I've got one that I like way better than an out of the box Legere, but I'll probably never be able to duplicate it. Was thinking if I send it to Legere could they analyze it and tell me which of their stock reeds comes closest. But hey, even that one is going to wear out, so unless I don't care about throwing out $25-33 reeds, reed adjustment is a permanent hobby. I'm the Engineering artisan type, so tweaking and fixing the reeds falls into my wheelhouse. Would I rather not have to do it? At first I though so, but now I see it gives me a level of control that you can't buy, and even if I could buy it, it wouldn't last anyway. I have several I rotate through, all adjusted, all a bit different, but I can adapt and play all of them. It's also given me a new appreciation for just how much the reed can affect my overall tone.
 

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That means playing a different reed every day, having several reeds ready to go at all times, and being able to play on reeds that may not be perfect. In other words, you play the reed, not the other way round.
Yeah Steve, the quote above really resonates with me. It's exactly what I've been doing for some time now. I generally keep the reeds I have on hand to play (approximately 8 or so reeds) in a rough order based on quality. The very best couple of reeds are saved for gigs and the others I practice on, using a different one for each practice session. At some point I might weed out a really poorly performing reed, or put one that seems to be playing really well in the gig-ready batch. I like to have at least 3 or 4 reeds that I feel good about playing on a gig, even if they aren't all equally great (they all vary somewhat).

Haven't watched the video clip yet but will do so shortly.
 

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There’s a place for synthetics for sure, I’m using one one bass clarinet right now for the show I’m playing. But they also have issues to deal with. I haven’t made the leap to using them full time yet on Bb clarinet or sax, which is what I think you need to do. I haven’t liked the feel of them, seems like they are taxing in a different way to me than I prefer. But I obviously see the benefits.
 

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Whatever works for you and gives you confidence (magic feather syndrome?) is good for you.
Just to be clear, in case it wasn't clear: I wasn't saying that the ritual of fiddling with cane reeds gives me a self-fulfilling feeling of confidence. I was simply attempting to describe how the actual real-time experience of playing cane reeds -- with all their variations & vagaries -- helps me develop my skillset.

It's not as if cane players & synthetic players need to ascribe magical thinking to one another. We can coexist peaceably.

Could the audience tell the difference between that special cane reed and a synthetic that you liked playing? Very doubtful.
Irrelevant. I've never looked to an audience for validation, nor do I expect audiences to perceive every detail of live music.* I play to challenge & stimulate myself & my fellow players, period. Most always, this makes audiences happy as well: win/win.

*Except in France, where (in my experience) the typical audience member is amazingly savvy about music & can listen with intent.
 

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For those who (somehow?) like fussing around and "ritual", cane is made for you!
That’s me.
I enjoy the the ritual and the old Vandoren reed cases that number the slots 1 to 4 allows me to test, adjust, condition and cycle through 4 reeds on each horn, so I always have a good/great reed to play but also have to deal with the mediocre ones too.

Looking forward to watching that video when I get control back of the TV from the wife and kids this evening 😊
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Just to be clear, in case it wasn't clear: I wasn't saying that the ritual of fiddling with cane reeds gives me a self-fulfilling feeling of confidence. I was simply attempting to describe how the actual real-time experience of playing cane reeds -- with all their variations & vagaries -- helps me develop my skillset.
To me, this is the point. Sure, cane reeds are different every time. But so am I. And so is the environment. I have to make my sound the best I can no matter the circumstance - in my practice room, in the studio, 4th set on the gig when I’m really tired, when it’s cold outside, when it’s boiling hot, etc.

Jennet’s practice of choosing 3 reeds and selecting the best one of those three mirrors my experience. A reed that sounds good at home may suck when I get to the gig. So I keep my reed case full, and choose the one that feels best now.
 

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I also enjoy adjusting reeds to the best they can play for you. Just a few minutes with a reed knife are usually enough to bring out the reed's full potential. I normally buy reeds one step harder than I like them, so I have a room to adjust them down. After that it's no different than using a synthetic, except a (virtually any) well adjusted cane reed will always sound better, IMO.
 

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I watched the video and while from what little I know about oboe reeds, I'm pretty sure they are more persnickety than sax reeds. However, the basic concept she outlined is totally applicable to sax reeds. Not to belabor the point but having at least a couple (preferably 3 or 4) of good reeds ready to go in your reed case and rotating between them, along with maybe a few others in the practice room, is the way to go. As to which reed to choose for a gig, I rarely have any problem with that choice, since I'll have at least a couple of favorites, with one in 'first place.' And those reeds will do just fine. I've rarely had to change a reed while on a gig, but still always have 2 or 3 more in a reed case. And yeah, you definitely have to get used to the fact that reeds vary somewhat.

One other thing regarding cane reeds that comes up a lot on here is the idea that adjusting them is some major hassle that for some players is just too much to deal with. Actually, it's pretty simple, at least the way I do it. Most reeds will require a few simple swipes with a reed geek or the equivalent to flatten the back of the reed. That takes a few seconds and usually it's done. Then, some reeds will be improved with a bit of sanding or scraping on one side or the other on top of the reed. Again, a matter of seconds. And the best reeds generally don't even need that. It's just not that big of a deal.

Edit: Fixed a typo (I can't let them stand!)
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
^^^. @JL you are right about oboe reeds. They are very persnickety. I played oboe (… well, show-boe….) for a few years, and reeds were definitely a deal. Used to find notations in various show charts, some many years old, like “Soak reed” or “Get oboe reed” and the like. I even left a few… managing oboe reeds, for a doubler, is a whole other thing.
 

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One other thing regarding cane reeds that comes up a lot on here is the idea that adjusting them is some major hassle that for some players is just too much to deal with. Actually, it's pretty simple, at least the way I do it. Most reeds will require a few simple swipes with a reed geek or the equivalent to flatten the back of the reed. That takes a few seconds and usually it's done. Then, some reeds will be improved with a bit of sanding or scraping on one side or the other on top of the reed. Again, a matter of seconds. And the best reeds generally don't even need that. It's just not that big of a deal.
Amen.
 

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I agree, for me a minimal break in and balance/adjustment yields the best results. When I’ve spent a lot more time really adjusting and trying to dial in reeds, it hasn’t been beneficial. But the difference between doing nothing and a small amount of break in/adjustment is large for me.
 
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