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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I needed to learn a tune that starts on low Bb, so I switched to a slightly softer reed.
Worked out really well.

Recently I got thinking about reed strength. On tenor, the 3 lowest notes have always been difficult for me. But I can cope. I can hold a soft Bb for a long time. (horn has no leaks)
The big difference for me with a slightly softer reed is not cramping up in the lowest register. I have the tendency to press harder on the keys when those low notes don’t pop out immediately. It’s compulsive, like pressing harder on your TV remote when the batteries are dead. You know pressing harder doesn’t help, but you do.
The harder I press, the less fluid my playing becomes.
Anyone else does this? Even after playing more than 20 years? It’s probably a bad habit that’s difficult to get rid of.
 

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....no, I don’t press down harder to get the low Bb to come out.....I just start moving my jaw and getting frustrated.

After my initial foray into playing the sax, where I needed to develop a basic embouchure, my experience has led me to believe that the mouthpiece and horn have a bigger impact on ones ability to get out low B or Bb than the reed.

The only time I have a problem with low Bb is when I have my Vandoren TL5 on my Selmer Mark 7. My MC Gregory 20M, D’Addario D8M, and Vandoren T75 don’t have this problem. (Coincidentally, all of these have larger tip openings that the TL5). Regardless of mouthpiece, I never have the problem with my Conn Shooting Star (Elkhart 16M).

......of course going to a soft enough reed will eventually get you there, but you might find that you sacrifice a lot above High C.
 

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If there is a leak in one or more of the pads or the keys are out of regulation it results in the affected notes not "speaking". Since we all want the notes to come out all of the time, it is human nature to put more pressure on the keys until they do. Using excess pressure can cause some of the keys to bend which in turn causes them to leak more which makes the player squeeze harder, and the cycle continues. As a repair tech I encounter this all the time. The remedy of course is to have your sax inspected on a regular basis and have small issues taken care of so they don't create bad habits that cause greater issues.

Leaks on a saxophone generally come about gradually and in such small increments that players often don't become aware of them or subconsciously makes small changes in the way they play until eventually the leaks become too large to go unnoticed. Players who always play on instruments in perfect adjustment can develop what I call "the princess and the pea" sensitivity where even the smallest breach in the air column is felt in the resistance and/or response of the instrument---especially in the low register. Repair techs who are saxophone players themselves often use this "learned" sensitivity to keep chasing small leaks even when they are not apparent with a leak light or feeler gauge.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks for the comments. Maybe there is some kind of leak, although I can play low Bb very quiet and with a full tone.
It could be that I’m compensating somehow. I’ll put in a leak light.
Maybe I was just playing half a strength too much for the mouthpiece and horn combination.
 

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I needed to learn a tune that starts on low Bb, so I switched to a slightly softer reed.
Worked out really well.

Recently I got thinking about reed strength. On tenor, the 3 lowest notes have always been difficult for me. But I can cope. I can hold a soft Bb for a long time. (horn has no leaks)
The big difference for me with a slightly softer reed is not cramping up in the lowest register. I have the tendency to press harder on the keys when those low notes don’t pop out immediately. It’s compulsive, like pressing harder on your TV remote when the batteries are dead. You know pressing harder doesn’t help, but you do.
The harder I press, the less fluid my playing becomes.
Anyone else does this? Even after playing more than 20 years? It’s probably a bad habit that’s difficult to get rid of.
Awareness is the first step toward making a change. I've been playing more than 50 years, and still make a point of checking in with myself so see if I am creating tension in my body - it usually accumulates in my shoulders.

If you can notice tension, you can make it go away - even after more than 20 years of playing. See how little pressure you can apply to the keys and still get a good sound. Make that a part of your focused practice.
 

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I've caught myself many times pressing too hard and it happens mostly when I am trying to play really soft at some acoustic jams/matinees, specifically when there is a vocalist who makes it an art to sing out of tune so that I am caught between the instruments and the vocals and have a hard time following the tune.

The other scenario is being caught in the crossfire of two or more very loud guitar amps, in other words, anything that creates stress on stage will eventually get you there and you don't even notice it at first because it creeps up on you, like the slow boiled frog.

There is no really good way out other than acting Keith Richards and play very few notes very smoothly and then let your fingers take over to get back into your normal playing (like pushing the reset button).
 

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There is no really good way out other than acting Keith Richards and play very few notes very smoothly and then let your fingers take over to get back into your normal playing (like pushing the reset button).
For those of us that don't channel Keith Richards regularly (or at all), could you please explain what that means? He usually seems pretty checked out, in an altered state.
 

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I have the bad habit of pressing the keys too hard all the time. It comes from playing on the road for a few years, moving from town to town with no way to get leaky pads fixed and still gig. So the grip of steel seals the holes. BTW, this is not recommended, but at the time it was survival and now just a bad habit.

Notes
 

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Leaks on a saxophone generally come about gradually and in such small increments that players often don't become aware of them or subconsciously makes small changes in the way they play until eventually the leaks become too large to go unnoticed.
+1. This is usually the reason a player will press down hard on the keys. And yes, it's mostly subconscious. I know I've done it when my horn started to develop minor leaks and I didn't realize I was doing it until the leaks became obvious.
 
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