In my many years as a professional performer and music instructor, I have come to see that the actual reed is as important to playing saxophone and clarinet as the instrument itself. The mouthpiece also plays a major role in the sound and ease of playing the instrument. There are many different types of reeds and mouthpieces available to any woodwind player, but for now let’s focus on the placement and care of the reed.
The most important thing regarding the reed is that it is thoroughly soaked. This is done by either soaking it for five minutes or so in a glass of water or wetting it in your mouth. The next step is to secure the reed to the mouthpiece with the ligature. A ligature is a device made of metal, or sometimes leather, with screws that tighten the reed to the mouthpiece. It is a good idea to practice putting the ligature on the mouthpiece before you put the reed on. This helps in anchoring the reed and saves the tip of the reed from being damaged by the ligature.
Once the reed has been secured to the mouthpiece, it needs to be positioned properly. First, make sure the bottom of the reed is centered on the table of the mouthpiece, with the ligature lightly holding the reed in place. Line up the tip of the reed with the tip of the mouthpiece. When the reed is in place, check the alignment one more time and tighten the ligature firmly. Now you’re ready to go!
In regards to reed care, it’s always best to remove the reed from the mouthpiece after playing, dry it off, and store it in a reed holder. Reed holders are inexpensive and can prolong the life of the reed considerably. It is also a good idea to rotate at least two reeds at a time. This will help you become aware of the variations between the 2 or 3 reeds that you are rotating. No two reeds are exactly alike, even if the brand and strength are the same. Since it is very difficult to say what the average life is of any individual reed, this will help prevent you from being stuck without a playing reed. The life of a reed is dependent on several factors, including the structure of the individual reed, and how it is played and cared for.
Keep on playing, and stay tuned for more woodwind performance and practice tips!