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Hello!

I am an adult beginner (some more details are below) learning alto sax. My setup is Trevor James Classic with a stock mouthpiece.
I am using Vandoren strength 3 reeds. I've been practicing with this setup from the beginning.
Yesterday I tried the reed that came with my sax kit. It was Vandoren 1.5 strength reed. I was really suprised! What seemed to be a real torture with #3 strenght appeared like relaxed playing with #1.5. When I tried this smaller strenght reed I could tongue notes much easier and I could hold a long note twice as long as with #3 reed. I was like walking after running.
I rotate four #3 reeds and they seem to be sounding equally good to me. Well, almost equally.

Here are my questions:

1. I know that mouthpiece/reed combination is always chosen following specific rules: the smaller the tip opening the stronger the reed and vice versa.
How can I find what reed strenght is optimal for my mouthpiece? I cannot make quantitative estimate of my mouthpiece tip opening just by looking at it.

* Can anyone give me advise on tip opening measurements and reed strenght choice? What are the figures (1.1 mm tip opening = #3 Vandoren reed)?

2. I read that beginners are sometimes advised to use thinner reeds to avoid excessive embouchure stress. On the other hand how does it work in relation to the first rule of the mouthpiece tip opening/ reed strength combination? Is that an exception from the rule?

3. Should I by a brand name mouthpiece? How should choose the reed strenght for that mouthpiece? For example Vandoren recommends
A27 mouthpiece for studying classical saxophone. The traditional(blue) reed strenght range recommended for that mouthpiece is 2.5/3/3.5.

What will happen if I use #1.5 reed with that mouthpiece? Will it be hard to blow? Or what?

Here is some information that maybe relevant to my question.
I started a month ago on an alto sax. I had one meeting with a local sax teacher but soon after that he had to leave for awhile so meanwhile I'm left to my own devices.
He then checked my Trevor James Classic Alto setup and said it was good. He taught me the basics some of which I already new and gave me practice instructions. He sounded really good on my sax with the stock mouthpiece and a #3 Vandoren reed.
 

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Stock mouthpieces are often better used as doorstops, but some are OK. At least with something like a Vandoren or selmer S80 c* you know its (probably) not the piece contributing to your problems as a learner.

As far as reeds go, you are generally right about the reed/ tip balance. but there is a lot to be said for some trial and error. Start soft and as your chops develop try half step harder reeds, and also learn how to work a reed to balance it and get it just so...you will save a lot of money in the long run in using all the reeds in a box, not just the 30% that are usable straight away.

If the reed its too soft for the mouthpice it will clam up when you want to get loud, and squeak, and the highs will be hard to reach. If its too hard the low notes will be hard to get out and you will feel a lot of resistance. As your chops develop what used to be OK will feel too soft, and the harder ones will become more optimal, at least that was my experience.

I dare say that if your teacher was OK with a #3 on your stock piece, then as a beginner you might want to try a 2 or 2.5 at first?

Good Luck
 

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If you're just starting on saxophone, it's rather strange to start out on a #3 reed. The highest that good band directors start you on is usually a 2.5, and that usually takes a while to get used to.

Try going down to a size 2, or a 2.5, and see how it works for you. If it's relatively easy blowing without working too hard, then you know you've git your size.

About the tip facing and the relative reed size - it honestly doesnt matter that much when you're beginning. Just find a good quality mouthpiece (Selmer S80 C* generally works well with 2-3.5 I think) and play.
 

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So many of the 'name' mouthpieces appear to have quality issues; that's what many of their proponents say! I think a relative beginner should keep it simple and buy a mouthpiece which has a reputation for reliability out of the box. Yanagisawa is amongst the best; Morgan, Jody Jazz ad Barone all stand up well. Selmer S80 C* has a beautiful tone, but don't buy if you can't get the top and bottom notes out cleanly: in my view, they are not good for beginners because of this.

Other key points: keep to hard rubber/plastic - it is too early to consider metal; use a medium tip opening - 4 or 5 for most makes; use a softer reed - 2 to 2.5 for most makes (but try a few).
 

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I agree that Selmer S80s have something of a rep as being a bit variable, but it is often the default standard of teachers too. Even a bad S80 will still be better than 90% of stock pieces.

Vandoren have an excellent reputation for quality and consistency out of the box, and are perhaps less of an investment than some of the more bespoke brands. Very middle of the road for a beginner, much more so than the Barones etc which I would say more likely to appeal to the advancing player who has figured out what it is they are really aiming for.

On Alto a Hard rubber meyer 6 is also often one of the "usual suspects" at a reasonable price range, and at the bottom of the price scale many people swear by the rico graftonites (many people swear at them too I guess).

Often the better quality beginners pieces come up in the classifieds here for far less than list price, as people move on to more niche pieces. Failing that a wanted add will maybe get what you want too.

Metal is probably ruled out on cost as much as anything. I dont think there is anything inherently wrong with learning on metal, I was lucky to be given a selmer metal classic that I learned on from qwuite early on, but at $400 I wouldnt recomend it to a student on those grounds alone. Its just a different feel in your mouth, so if a rubber piece feels too large you might consider a metal one. I dont see why something like a cheap Otto Link STM would no be OK for a student, except its hard to know if you have a good one or not in the current variable quality stakes.

Its the facing that maters more than the material, but at the start of the sax trail I dont think it would be wise to spend three figures plus on a mouthpiece anyway.
 
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