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Discussion Starter #1
I'm prepping for a couple of gigs where I've gone up a 1/2 strength in soprano reeds to strengthen my tone, upper notes, and pitch reliability. (3H it is.) It sounds phenomenal for tone and intonation, but my lips are suffering somewhat. I tried a suggestion from a forum member to modify an over-the-counter dental guard to protect my lower lip. At first I didn't like the results, because it mutes my tone somewhat, but I actually find my high notes pop in more easily with the dental guard than with my lip alone. I've decided to go ahead and use it, because the gig I'm playing for is going to include people who are likely to complain that we are all playing too loudly, and I know that soprano is definitely in hearing-aid hot spot range; hence, muted tone may be an advantage. I hope it doesn't cause me problems later to have morphed my embouchure to accommodate the thicker plastic that replaces my cutting edge teeth. It's not the gig that will be so much of a problem on the teeth. It's the hours of practice to get ready. I need to do 1-2 hours daily. Anyone have an idea why the dental guard would actually help me get the high notes? I found that strange.
 

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How about...

Not playing a reed that's too hard for you?

Personally I have found my preferred reed strength going down over the 40+ years I've been doing this and I have not lost anything in upper register or intonation. If I were in a situation of wanting to play particularly softly on soprano, I certainly would look into using something like a Selmer C* mouthpiece. Since I find that I can play as loudly as a trumpet with a C* and #2.5 Vandoren reeds, I don't really think I need any more than that.
 

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I personally think D'Addario soprano reeds are sub-optimal (Oh, ok, rubbish!) for soprano. They don't really support the palm keys properly and they tend towards a nasal tone.
I agree with turf3, a Selmer C* with one of the Vandoren classical style reeds (BB, V12, V21) is capable of huge volume and much less stressful than a big tip if you are playing for long periods. It might not immediately give you the tone quality you desire though.
However, unless you tell us what mouthpiece you are using, most advice is going to be a bit academic.....
 

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I personally think D'Addario soprano reeds are sub-optimal (Oh, ok, rubbish!) for soprano. They don't really support the palm keys properly and they tend towards a nasal tone.
I agree with turf3, a Selmer C* with one of the Vandoren classical style reeds (BB, V12, V21) is capable of huge volume and much less stressful than a big tip if you are playing for long periods. It might not immediately give you the tone quality you desire though.
However, unless you tell us what mouthpiece you are using, most advice is going to be a bit academic.....
OP's profile indicates "Bari gold 7" whatever that is. At any rate I think we can assume it's a whacking great open tip like an experienced professional with chops like iron might use for a high volume situation and still have trouble controlling.

For ordinary schlubs like me something much more moderate can get the job done, without pain, and with better control and flexibility. Like I said, when I play soprano with a C* Selmer mouthpiece subbing for lead trumpet in a full size big band, I have to play softly not to overpower the trombones and saxes; so I am not sure what more you would need.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
It's a Dixieland gig. The Bari Gold is a medium-large tip, but the chamber is narrowed somewhat, and it gives me easier high notes and more flexible bends than my other mpc, an S80 - F. Maybe I don't know how to drive the S80 well. I can't get reliable high notes from it yet, but I use it in small chamber ensembles where I don't have to deal with palm notes above D. Is the S80 similar to a C*? I like the general sound of the Bari Gold, which is sparkly. It's true that I could drown out the rest of the 7-piece band with it if I didn't play with sensitivity, but with a lot of space in the throat and pharynx it can also whisper low. The trouble is, the hard reeds make it murder on the gut and lips to play endlessly for a 2-hour rehearsal. I'm not a wind professional, but I'm playing with band members who are. I'm a choral/voice teacher who is capitalizing on the fact that it's easier to be an over-the-hill instrumentalist than an over-the-hill singer. :) I've been playing sax about 8 years now. I love this forum, where I've gotten some breakthroughs by reading and asking questions. I have a good teacher which also helps, but I find multiple sources of info to escalate my learning.
 

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Well, if you go up a strength in reeds and find it hard to play without biting a hole in your lip, go back down again.

I use an S-80 Selmer C* (C* is just the facing; C* is kind of a standard for this mouthpiece; F is pretty darn open).

I am going to repeat my recommendation that you go with a medium to medium-close facing and medium strength reeds. Using a big opening and stiff reeds to try to get the high notes is a compensation that won't work out well in the end. When you build chops, you can work toward bigger openings, if you want, and if you feel you need to compete in high volume situations. Or, alternatively, once you learn how to blow through a soprano MP with a medium opening and medium strength reeds, you may decide you don't need wide open tips. As I said, I've been playing for 40+ years now and I routinely use a Selmer C* on alto for anything smaller than a loud big band, and I use a C* Selmer on soprano and have to throttle it back to avoid overplaying in pretty much every situation. I can't imagine why you would want to work harder than that.

I read this great story from Andrew N. White where he tells about consulting with a ****** hot collegiate sax player on her setup. He plays her rig and she plays his and she's astonished how easy, how flexible, and what a great sound she can get from his rig. He tells here something like the following (apologies to Mr. White for errors):

"OK, let's look at this. You are 20 years old, you've been playing sax for 7 years, you're 5 foot 3 inches tall and weigh 110 lbs, and you are playing on a #8 mouthpiece and a #4 reed. I am 50 years old, I've been playing sax for 40 years, I'm 6 feet tall and weigh 190 lbs., and yet I'm playing on a #5 mouthpiece and #2.5 reeds. Why do you think you need to work so hard?"
 

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It looks like my C* Selmer is around 0.047" and your Bari #7 is around 0.070".

Frankly a 0.070" facing is, I think, about what most people use for lead alto in a big band.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Wow. I might see if I can borrow a C* from somebody and just check it out. It sounds like my setup is pretty different from yours.
 

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F facing is around 0.058" (or so the charts tell me) - not a super open piece, but a good middle of the road. I have a Super Session with an F facing that's great, though I play a Link 6 (0.060") currently.

Super 80 with the square chamber is not so good in my opinion. Try a Bari (not the gold model, just the regular model) in a 0.060 or so. Bet you'll like it.

I agree that 0.070" is pretty open, and a 3H on that would be impossible for me, personally.
 

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I use a 3S or 3M on a 0.070 mouthpiece (Morgan 7) on soprano. This is a larger tip opening than average, but small compared to some players (e.g., Dave Liebman plays on a much harder/more open setup, as did Steve Lacy). So if it feels right to you, I don't think it's too unusual.

I have also tried many different types of reeds and prefer Jazz Select on soprano, so I don't think you need to switch.

How long have you been playing soprano? I ask because I had similar problems in my first few months of playing soprano (even when using more closed mouthpieces).

The problem should go away as you build up your chops, but in the meantime, what works much better than a dental guard is a product called Parafilm M. It's much thinner than a dental guard, thermoplastic at around body temperature, and a $20 roll will last you a lifetime.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
I use a 3S or 3M on a 0.070 mouthpiece (Morgan 7) on soprano. This is a larger tip opening than average, but small compared to some players (e.g., Dave Liebman plays on a much harder/more open setup, as did Steve Lacy). So if it feels right to you, I don't think it's too unusual.

I have also tried many different types of reeds and prefer Jazz Select on soprano, so I don't think you need to switch.

How long have you been playing soprano? I ask because I had similar problems in my first few months of playing soprano (even when using more closed mouthpieces).

The problem should go away as you build up your chops, but in the meantime, what works much better than a dental guard is a product called Parafilm M. It's much thinner than a dental guard, thermoplastic at around body temperature, and a $20 roll will last you a lifetime.
I have played soprano a lot, but a year ago was playing it less, because the chamber ensemble I go to weekly needed my alto skills instead. Then, recently, the swing band I'm in got a Dixieland gig, so I've been working more on it for about a month. In my previous soprano experience, I didn't need the palm notes very often. In the Dixieland music, they pop up quite a bit. So, it's partly trying to build back up, but also, trying to get higher notes than I needed before.

I actually tried using my dental guard on the first song in the 2-hour rehearsal today, and it just wasn't working for me, so I took it out. I'm grateful for the Parafilm recommendation. I did survive the rehearsal, and people were happy with my sound, bends, etc. I also noticed that I need to occasionally lay off a note or two on the background sections to be ready for my solos. I tried to be aware of staying loose and not getting too tight. That seems to help.

By the way, I really like Leibman and Lacy!
 

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Wow. I might see if I can borrow a C* from somebody and just check it out. It sounds like my setup is pretty different from yours.
CatDuet, I can see that you might not get the tone quality you want on a closed tip, but it will make things easier.
Dave Dolson on this forum, who is a trad player, has been experimenting with closer tipped pieces (Vandoren SL3) and he reports good results (but admittedly I've not actually heard Dave play).
I've been very focused on soprano for a long time and I don't think you can develop the soprano embouchure quickly, it requires so much more pressure than alto or tenor. Bob Mintzer, who also plays a .070 (a 7 tip I think) Bari piece once told me he has the same problem of biting through his lip, but he was using really hard Bari plastic reeds on his piece.
I reckon you could probably get almost the same quality needed for trad on a .060 tip, but as Joe at Soprano Planet says, it's not all to do with the tip, it's the facing and the bore too.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
CatDuet, I can see that you might not get the tone quality you want on a closed tip, but it will make things easier.
Dave Dolson on this forum, who is a trad player, has been experimenting with closer tipped pieces (Vandoren SL3) and he reports good results (but admittedly I've not actually heard Dave play).
I've been very focused on soprano for a long time and I don't think you can develop the soprano embouchure quickly, it requires so much more pressure than alto or tenor.
Makes sense. I have learned a lesson, that I need to keep my hand in on soprano. So as an experienced soprano player, do you actually develop a sturdier inner lip, or do you get so good at supporting with the sides of the lip that the teeth don't press into the lower lip much, or both?
 

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Makes sense. I have learned a lesson, that I need to keep my hand in on soprano. So as an experienced soprano player, do you actually develop a sturdier inner lip, or do you get so good at supporting with the sides of the lip that the teeth don't press into the lower lip much, or both?
For me, both. I play a gig that often requires me to play 90 mins straight through on soprano, with very few rests, a lot of high playing and only the occasional tune on alto. Under that sort of pressure I have to resort to a more clarinet-type, classical-sax-type embouchure where the chin is flat and the lower lip stretched over the teeth. This inevitably leads to some biting, but there's simply no way around that and I'm physically forced into that position by the demands of the music. This approach doesn't work for me with anything more open at the tip than about .050" (5 tip).
The problem is that despite being well paid to do this, it really messes with both my alto, and to a much greater degree my tenor playing. Even with the experience to know to approach on tenor in a different way, my voicing is by habit too high unless I take time away to practice. It's a conundrum that I have to work out all the time.
 

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Almost certainly your problem is using a such a hard reed that is causing you to bite down way too hard, damaging your lip, and I would bet anything not really improving your tone. That amount of biting would tend toward a thin, shrill sound (although I guess maybe the extra hard reed would tend to deaden it a bit), especially on soprano. I agree with turf, why not use a more reasonable strength reed and work on solid air support to attain good tone quality? There is no reason whatsoever that a medium strength reed (2.5 - 3) would hold you back from achieving 'phenomenal tone and intonation.' And then you could relax your embouchure somewhat (I realize soprano requires a bit tighter grip), quit biting so hard, and wouldn't have to use a dental guard.

Just a suggestion....
 

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Biting down on a hard reed with an open tip seems like the way to get high notes to come out but it's counterproductive. You need to learn how to voice them so you don't have to do that.

The classical guys play 4 and 5 octaves on Selmer C* mouthpieces.

If you find the reed closing up on you in the palm keys, you're blowing too hard. On a soprano those notes WILL be heard, you don't need to blow your brains out.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
I did step back a 1/3 on the reed strength. I ended up using the regular 3 reed instead of 3H for the gig with success. The Parafilm M did help me get through the hours of rehearsal during the days before, even in spite of a canker sore. I still have another soprano gig later in the month, and I'll keep working with seeing if lesser strength reeds can do the job for me. I hate to give up this mouthpiece. I can't explain that except to say that I truly love the tone it produces. I'm used to a bit of pressure, having played bagpipes. I just have to be super aware to not focus the tone so much that I drown out the band. The demands of playing so hard do wear me out, though. It would be nice to think I could get what I need with less effort. The sound guy today made me aware in sound check that I would have to tone it down, and when I asked afterwards, he said it was just right. Whew! I do know about voicing. Actually, am a vocal major, and can hit all the notes with my voice that I play on soprano. But I haven't figured out how to exactly leverage it reliably on soprano yet. I have sporadic success but it tends to disappear when I get timid or nervous. Well, anyway, today was not a disaster, and I feel like people's ideas here are part of that victory. If I find a mouthpiece to borrow, I'll definitely try some of the mpc suggestions to be sure I'm not missing something.
 

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Good news, well done!
IMHO, the Bari is just enabling you to access something that's in you to start with. But a mouthpiece change is almost always 'swings and roundabouts'.
 

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I did step back a 1/3 on the reed strength. I ended up using the regular 3 reed instead of 3H for the gig with success.

...and I'll keep working with seeing if lesser strength reeds can do the job for me. I hate to give up this mouthpiece. I can't explain that except to say that I truly love the tone it produces.
I'm not surprised you found some improvement moving down to a more reasonable sized reed. Although I'd definitely drop down a bit more until reaching the 'sweet spot.' Also keep in mind you have to try more than one reed at a given size (or brand*) to make a valid assessment. Reeds are not totally consistent as we all know. You like the mpc so probably no need to change it, especially if you find the reeds that work well on it.

*Once you establish the size range that works, you might experiment with some other brand reeds. It can get expensive and is kind of a hassle, but well worth it when you find a brand that works best for you.
 

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I would recommend trying different reed cuts other than the Jazz Select.
Something mid way in between JS and the classical cuts.
Like; La Voz, Gonzalez Jazz or RC, or Daddario Royal.

They have a bit more material in the body of the reed so they can give more depth to the tone without adding more resistance at the tip, so long as you get the right strength.
If you happen to buy ones too hard just sand the lower body of the reed a bit, go easy on the middle somewhat..

La Voz is fairly similar to Jazz Select, then Gonzalez Jazz adds a bit more body, then Royal and RC Gonzalez add a lot more.
 
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