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Discussion Starter #1
Hi All

I just cant get my head around what the difference is between a soft and hard reed (or indeed a synthetic v cane reed for that matter) and wondered if anyone can clarify a few points for me as its bugging the hell out of me.

Lets start by taking a simple/basic view of the physical things that happen.

I blow into a mouthpiece and this causes the reed to vibrate which in turn causes the air around it to vibrate which generates a sound wave.

This sound wave then travels down the length of the metal tube which is my sax and depending on how long I make the tube the note becomes a higher or lower one.

But what is making this noise or sound?

Is it the vibration of the air itself or the reed?

If its the frequency and wavelength of the sound wave in the air then what difference does the material of the stiffness of thing (reed) making the air vibrate make to the final noise coming out of my horn?

Hence my question.

I keep asking myself is a harder reed due to its stiffness more consistent in generating sound waves whilst a softer reed might flap around due to it being softer especially at the extreme ends fo a horns range?

I know some people like to use 2.0 or 2.5 strength reeds whilst others like to use 3.5 strength reeds say but if you are using the same horn and playing in the middle register surely they are going to sound the same if I make a recording and then play the recordings back and listen to them.

It seems obvious to me (and from personal experience) that a softer reed v a stiffer reed will behave differently at the two extreme ends of a horns range so can accept that if I were to play a 3.5 v a 2.0 reed that I could get better control out of the harder reed especially in the higher register than the softer one but the 3.5 is just so damn hard for me to play and usually most things are played with a middle 2 octave or so range

Obviously the sound I hear when playing is very different to the sound that someone sitting in front of me is hearing but when I record something with a soft or hard or cane or synthetic reed I just cant tell the difference if its in the middle octaves but they do sound different when I am playing them (maybe vibration through my jaw distorts things who knows).

Anyway at the risk of opening up a can of worms wondered of anyone would care to comment on what actually the difference between reeds is in terms of generating a 'noise' or note is concerned but I think it will all stem from my opening few lines as to what actually causes the sound wave and noise that is generated and whether it is the reed itself of the vibration of air that passes down the horn that was created by the reed.

So maybe my question should be is a middle C generated by a soft or hard or cane or synthetic reed the same in all cases as it makes the air vibrate in identical ways or are the sound waves created by each one different from each other.

(Perhaps I should ask this on a Physics forum because its obviously going to have something to do with sound waves and their frequency and amplitude and wavelength)

Just for information purposes I almost always play with a 2.5 Legere Signature Series reed on a tenor horn as it seems to offer the right amount of resistance for my abilities and plays well from top to bottom (for me) on my mouthpiece.

I would be extremely interested to hear peoples views on this subject as I am just really curious as to why some prefer one type of reed over another (in terms of material and stiffness) and why they would make any difference to the 'noise" coming out of the horn
 

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Discussion Starter #2
Moved this from general dwcussion tenor Bb forum as that seemed the w ong spot for this post
 

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You have three basic areas. Starting with the heart, there is the heart of the reed, the transition zone between the heart and the tip, and the tip area. With harder strength reeds, the heart extends further up into the tip, meaning the transition zone is higher and the tip area is smaller. This will make the reed more resistant and less buzzy. The thickness of the tip area is the same in a #1 and #5 reed. That tip Area will be larger, and the heart will not extend as high up into the tip area with a #1 reed as it will in a #5 reed.

When you either cut or sand a hard to reed to make it less resistant and more flexible, you never want to sand or cut exactly on the heart or the tip area. The tip area and heart each have their proper integrity which you do not want to destroy, instead, you want to work on that transition zone BETWEEN the heart and tip, essentially moving the front edge of the heart further back to allow the tip area more room to buzz on the tip rail of the mouthpiece.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
But do the differing reeds generate a different sound/note/noise
 

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Yes each reed is a little different, and the physical properties of the cane itself are crucial. It is after all natural material. I personally prefer real cane over any synthetic reeds I’ve tried.

There is harder more resilient sounding cane, and there is mushy and weaker cane that you will never get a decent tone out of no matter what you do to it. There is a cane that warps more overtime and cane that warps less. Each piece of Cain has its own mixture of these physical properties, unfortunately dealing with reeds is often a real headache. Often, a reed that feels a little stuffy and resistant just needs a very minor adjustment, a little bit of material taken off in the transition zone to allow the tip to buzz a drop more can open up the whole sound of the saxophone. If you can learn how to do this you can save yourself a ton of time and money because then you are not depending on some reed manufacturer to make you the perfect sounding reed, and you have control over this very important part of your equipment.


But do the differing reeds generate a different sound/note/noise
 

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But do the differing reeds generate a different sound/note/noise
I answered in the other thread you opened on the same subject.

P.S. PLEASE don't do what you have just done! If you think one of your threads is misplaced, contact a moderator (click on the small triangle in the left bottom side of the frame of your first post
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Oops sincerest apologies...i tried to delete it prior to any replies and if I couldnt would have cntacted a mod but as I emptied it thought I would get away with it

Sncerest apologies
 

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Oops sincerest apologies...i tried to delete it prior to any replies and if I couldnt would have cntacted a mod but as I emptied it thought I would get away with it

Sncerest apologies
No problem. But have you alerted a moderator? It's what you should do now. The moderator will merge both threads.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Have now dome so...sincerest apologies onc again to all concerned
 

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I answered in the other thread you opened on the same subject.

P.S. PLEASE don't do what you have just done! If you think one of your threads is misplaced, contact a moderator (click on the small triangle in the left bottom side of the frame of your first post
Hold up a minute, please.

What question did you answer?

What other thread was it in?

I want to figure out this stuff, also.

My naive impression is that a soft reed will vibrate causing a low frequency, while a stiff reed will vibrate causing a high frequency.

Consequently, a very soft reed should play very flat and a very hard reed should play very sharp.

But the notes are about the same.

So my thinking on this is not correct or clear.

I do not understand what is going on, and would like to read the correct answer.

Thank you for your kind attention.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
I have tried recordng synthetic and cane reeds of different strengths and played them back by just doing a solitary note and I cant tell the difference and neither can some frinds but it could be just my poor ear training/ hearng or poor recording equipment

So it makes me question whether there is a discernable distnguishing difference “IF” the sound generation is just the vibrat air inside the horn


Then again is it like playing records on a stereo Costing £1000 or £100k once they are hifi standard the ear cant tell the difference
 

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Hi All

(...)
But what is making this noise or sound?

Is it the vibration of the air itself or the reed?

If its the frequency and wavelength of the sound wave in the air then what difference does the material of the stiffness of thing (reed) making the air vibrate make to the final noise coming out of my horn?

Hence my question.

(...)
My previous answer has been lost in the process of merging so I restate it here.

The short answer is: it is both the reed and the air column. You could compare the situation to a (mechanical) clock, where the anchor maintains the motion of a pendulum: the reed is analogous to the anchor and the air column is analogous to the the pendulum. The frequency is dictated by the air column/pendulum and only marginally influenced by the reed/anchor.

The effect of the stiffness of the reed is more difficult to figure out.

With a softer reed, the reed is beating on the lay of the mouthpiece with a more moderate pressure: the higher partials of the air column are more easily excitated and the sound is brighter (but the tuning is only marginally influenced). On the contrary, with a harder reed, the sound is darker, or even stuffy if the reed is too hard.

I don't know exactly why but the lower notes require more blowing pressure; a harder reed also requires more blowing pressure. With a too soft reed, the blowing pressure can be excessive on the higher notes and the reed closes on the lay of the mouthpiece. On the contrary, with a too hard reed you must blow quite hard for the lower notes.

Also, a harder reed easily invites biting, and it could be a reason why the lower notes are more difficult with a harder reed.
 

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The reed makes the 'squawk' and the mouthpiece is its 'sounding chamber' which modifies the sound into a tone. Reeds of a certain brand are all cut on the same machine to the same thickness. The strength of the reed (resistance to bending) depends on the cane - a sensitive machine gauges each reed and sorts it by strength. The reed on a sax or clarinet has to vibrate at the tip rail in order to make a coherent sound. Your embouchure must be strong enough to bend the reed up to that point where it will play but not 'close up' and stop the air. So when an experienced player chooses a more 'open' mouthpiece (wider tip opening), he may play a softer reed which is easier to make that bend. A softer reed typically produces a more 'liquid' or 'lush' sound and invites the use of a looser embouchure which further enhances tone generation. When the reed has been played a few times it gets softer and softer and at the same time loses vibrancy - this is when we replace it.
The primary characteristic of the synthetic reed is that it does not absorb moisture, therefore it does not decompose like a cane reed. It also offers an incredible benefit previously unknown in the woodwind world, by playing exactly the same time after time, with no 'wetting' or other preparation. This produces amazing benefits because the horn sounds and reacts just the same every time. With a cane reed every one is different, and usually even the same one is different from session to session. However, the synthetic reed also can lack the artistic expression cane reed players need. You may have to try several, with each one costing about the same as a box of cane reeds, so players finding one they like usually stick with that kind.
 

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In addition to Alan Glen's excellent answer let me add a few things I have learned by reading Benade's "Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics". In acoustic science the reed is referred to as the "excitation mechanism". In response to the pressurized air stream passing through the tip opening of the mouthpiece the reed begins to vibrate, actually opening and closing the aperture at louder levels. This vibration of the reed sets the air molecules into motion becoming a sound wave which travels to the first opening where it is reflected back to the mouthpiece. This trip down and back represents the wavelength of the sound wave. The "natural resonant frequency" of the enclosed conical tube couples with the soundwave and determines the frequency of the reed's vibrations. The reed and soundwave form what Benade calls a "regime of oscillation" where there is some give and take between the energy peaks of fundamental pitch and its harmonics. It is the strength (thickness) of each reed that establishes its elasticity which in turn determines the amount of (wind) energy required to set the reed in motion. It is also important to note that what we hear is not the reed's natural frequency which is the squeak demonstrated by putting the reed completely inside the mouth and blowing. In order for the reed to couple with the resonance of the tube to produce a more "musical" frequency requires a significant amount of dampening of its vibrations which is done by contact with the player's lip.

This all takes place in a minute fraction of a second. For example playing the pitch of concert A=440 the sound wave travels down and back a total distance of 78.41 centimeters 440 times per second. As soon as the player changes the fingering the reed vibrates at a new frequency creating a new "regime of oscillation". The times when the natural resonant frequency of the body tube does not determine the frequency of the reed's vibrations are when the resonance of the tube is weak enough to allow the player's oral cavity to take over. This does not mean that a skilled player cannot tune the oral cavity to cause the frequency of an overtone to predominate even when the tube resonance is in tact. All of this is based upon my present understanding as a layperson interested in saxophone acoustics, and I welcome any additions or corrections from those with a deeper and more complete understanding of the topic.


Physic of Music - Notes
 

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There are two things to consider about the "sound" of a reed. 1st, is the reed itself balanced and suitable to the mouthpiece you use - reeds are cut to favor particular facing curves, with reeds like Vandoren Blue Box favoring shorter facings (and perhaps closer tips), such as found on classical mouthpieces, while reeds like the Rico Orange Box favor longer facings like on an Otto Link STM.

2nd, is the reed comfortable for you to play on? Too hard, and you work too hard - and blow out your chops! Too soft, and you have trouble supporting the sound - and blow out your chops :)

I know this doesn't answer your question, really, but there is a difference in the sound because the "right" reed will allow you to sound your best. People can tell the difference between a musician that is just "pushing buttons" and one that is truly inspired. The right reed will get out of your way and allow you to play in such a way that you think more about the music than the mechanics of making your sound.

To expand about the way a reed works - when you blow into the mouthpiece, you create a pressure differential between the inside of the mouthpiece and the rest of the area inside your mouth. This is similar to the way that an airplane wing creates lift - faster air (the air in the mouthpiece) has lower pressure than still air (the air in your mouth). Thus the flexible reed bends, and closes against the tip of the mouthpiece. At this point, the pressure differential is gone (air is not flowing into the mouthpiece any more), and the reed snaps back, thus starting the cycle over again. This lets a bunch of tiny puffs of air into the instrument, at a frequency determined by the length of the tube, which excites the air column to vibrate.

The stiffness (hardness) of the reed influences both parts of the cycle - the stiffer reed will require a greater pressure differential (i.e. a stronger air stream) to close, and will snap back more quickly. A softer reed will not snap back as quickly, and when the air pressure is too hard it may "close up" and stay closed (thus stopping the note altogether).

I think that hard and soft reeds DO have a different sound - think about players that use a stiff reed, like Wayne Shorter and Plas Johnson, and they have a huskier, breathier sound than people that use a more "normal" setup. (I think, but don't know for sure, that some air sneaks by the reed because it's open longer, and adds this huskiness to the sound.) But these are subtle differences, and we as players naturally adapt our air flow and embouchure to accommodate the reed stiffness, so a recording made of both a hard and soft reed will likely sound very similar.

Hope this helps, some. I know it's not a direct answer to the question, but I think it's way more important to find a reed (synthetic or cane) that feels "right", than to try to adapt to a particular reed brand and style because you are trying to achieve a particular sound. There are many factors that go into a player's sound that don't really have to do with reeds - like articulation style, the way you shape your mouth and throat when playing, the way you support your air column, what mouthpiece you use, etc. Trying to isolate a particular aspect of this sound and choosing the reed based on it, seems like a waste of time to me. I choose reeds based on how well they allow me to get "my sound".
 

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But do the differing reeds generate a different sound/note/noise
A box of ten reeds will all be a little different - mainly because of the variables in the natural cane product as well as some leeway in the grading system. Reeds by all the different makers tend to have different playing characteristics. All the different synthetics as well as the one and only hybrid reed, the Rico Plasticover, play differently. You are the only one who can make the determination of what reed you should use.
Get used to it, because it is a large part of the reed instrument playing experience and goes on until you stop playing.
 

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As to 'hard' or 'soft', that's not a decision - its a reaction to how you want to sound, the mouthpiece you have and the state of your 'chops' - the embouchure as well as your level of experience. So, if you are a beginner with a #3 mouthpiece, for example, you might be able to play a Rico #2 reed. As you progress and get stronger, you might move up to a #3 reed. At some point you will probably start wondering about mouthpieces and buy maybe a #7, which throws you back to a #2 reed, at least at first, because it takes more embouchure, more air and more control to play.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Ok I have spoken and discussed this with a few people and think I have found an answer but am not sure I am going to be able to explain this properly or easily but will have a go/

Firstly I have made a very flawed assumption regarding what a noise or musical note is.

If we look at any given horn and set up you have to think why is it when I play a low Bb on my tenor does it sound like a foghorn and yet when a professional musician plays it the sound is a smooth Bb?

The answer is because whilst both are Bb notes it has been generated by a combination of several factors and the resulting sounds were different

The horn mouthpiece and reed were identical along with the position of the reed on the mouthpiece so the only difference is the mouth playing it.

So the flawed assumption is thinking that a C note is a solitary sound wave which it clearly is not

Just like the low Bb it has been made up of lots of sound waves which we can call the sub tones or harmonics or whatever (the words used are entirely insignificant)

A violin or piano or trumpet of Sax can all play the same note but sound different just like a bronze and a brass horn can sound different.

If the note or sound was from a single sound wave they would all sound identical

To try and explain in simple terms I think a C note should be thought of along the lines of say 90% a C note and 5% a D note and 5% a B note which collectively give a C in the same way a C can be made from 20% D and 20% B and 60% C

So I guess what I am saying is that a solitary note is made up of a combination of a lot of sound waves along the lines of blending several different notes or harmonics or subtones or whatever which result in the final sound.

So even if we standardize the instrument and mouthpiece and player and only change the reed (hard or soft or cane or plastic) each will have a distinctive sound associated with it (just like a bronze sax sounds different from a brass sax despite playing the same note)

So even if I cant tell the difference when recording myself and playing a hard or soft cane or synthetic reed does not mean there is no difference as it is most likely down to my limited abilities player or embouchure wise (probably also as previously mentioned due to my crappy microphone/speaker combinations on phones and ipads when testing the reeds out on a C)

So in summary then it has to do with a sound or note being produced by multiple soundwaves that are blended or mixed together to produce the final sound.

These sound waves are produced by the players embouchure and the mouthpiece and the horn and the materials that make up the horn and mouthpiece and neck and of course the reed itself too.

If we standardize everything but the reed then the material of the reed and the stiffness of the reed when different from each other will produce the same final note but will do so by blending and mixing a variety of soundwaves in differing proportions so that the final note may well be the same (eg a C) but all four C's will have their own distinctive sound

So I guess what I am saying is that if we play four x C's using a soft and hard cane reed followed by a soft and hard synthetic reed one C can sound different from another C whilst all four of them are still C's

Hope this makes sense
 

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Discussion Starter #20
PS I understand all about personal preference and what works for each and every one of us and very much appreciate all the responses

Bottom line just enjoy playing and dont be so OCD like me and get hung up over what happens if you use X, Y or Z reed mouthpiece or differing bits of equipment

Just enjoy the journey and experience and do what works for you
 
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