You May be Using the Wrong Reed!

Have you ever had any of the following reed symptoms?

  • The reed is really hard to play- You put in a lot of air but the tone is muffled
  • The reed is easy to play but it sounds buzzy (a kazoo like buzz- but not nearly as much)

If you have, you could be playing on the wrong reed strength. Here’s how you can find the right reed!

The Bigger the Shoe, the Better

Have you ever heard someone walk into a shoe store and say, “I wear a size 10 shoe, but get me the biggest shoe in the store. The biggest shoes are the best!” Can you imagine wearing the biggest shoes when they don’t fit? That would be uncomfortable, and it could possibly damage your feet too.

Reed strength is like a shoe. Wearing bigger shoes doesn’t make you better; finding the right fit matters most. Finding the right fit means finding the right reed strength.  If you need a description on reed strength, check out a previous blog post on equipment.

Goldilocks Says…

If Goldilocks found saxophone reeds in the 3 bears house, she definitely would have said the following:

  • This reed is too hard
  • This reed is too soft
  • This reed is just right

How can she tell, and more importantly, how can you tell? Here’s how.

Too Hard, Too Soft, or Just Right

If you play on a reed that requires a lot of air, and you get a muffled tone, it’s probably too hard. People compare it to playing on tree bark. In this case, try a lower reed strength. If you’re playing on a 3, then move down to 2.5.

When the reed is too soft, you’ll get a buzzy sound right out of the box. People compare this to playing on paper. In this case, try a higher reed strength. If you’re playing on a 2.5, then move up to a 3. Don’t make large leaps in sizes.

Keep in mind, that after a reed is used for a few days, it can change. The perfect reed could become too soft, the hard reed could become perfect, and the soft reed…well, there’s not too much hope there.

The reed that feels just right? You’ll be able to tell when you get one. It’s easy to play and the tone sounds great. Guard this reed and treat it nicely. We’ll talk about taking care of it next week.

Suggested Reed Strength

There aren’t as many reed strengths available as there are shoe sizes, but you still need to find the right fit. I suggest a Rico 2.5 for the beginner. It will help you be successful on the saxophone from the start.

When every reed plays easily right out of the box, it may be time to change strength and try a 3. It will feel more resistance at first and you may be tempted to go back to the 2.5. Give it a week of daily practice and the reed should become easier to play.

So get the right reed strength and you’ll be a happy camper. Remember, you will grow, so a different strength down the road will be likely. If you want me to hear how a particular reed sounds on your saxophone, send me a recording and I’ll give you feedback. Just click here.

Just so you can have a gauge on reed strengths, I’ve included a chart below. Enjoy!

Your Reed Strength

So what reed strength do you use now? What strength did you start with? We would love to hear from you in our comment section. Also, if you know of anyone who could benefit from  18 Tips to a Better Tone, please share this article with them. We appreciate it!

Reed Strength Chart



Comments 8

  1. For me 2.5 feels too soft after just a week of practicing, and a 3 feels to hard, even after using it for months! What should I do?

    1. Post

      Great question Jose. Does the 2.5 reed work well out of the box? If it does, it sounds like the reed strength is a good fit for you. However, if the reeds are not prepared properly, they can break down within a few hours. Here’s a post on how to prepare your reeds. It’s great information that is easy to see the results when applied. By the way, how many 3 strength reeds have you tried?

  2. Great article. Thank you.

    I picked up an alto saxophone last in for the first time under the auspices of a seasoned instructor. I had a terrible time with a consistent pitch and producing a sound altogether. At one point, I hit a B perfectly and for the duration of my breath; however, once I took the mouthpiece out and put it back into my mouth, the problems arose once again. My teacher played the sax with perfect sound. Any suggestions for a first-time reed player would be appreciated.

    1. Post

      Hey Matthew, thanks for your question. The answers I would provide would be a repeat of the embouchure section in the free lessons. Have you had a chance to try these yet?

  3. Greetings,

    Great website. Thank you for taking the time and energy in sharing your expertise.

    I had my first lesson last night. While I have been a musician my whole life, this was my first attempt at a reed instrument. I could barely get out a B note. Most of the lesson consisted of no sound or squeaking. Only at one point did I have the note correctly in pitch and consistent in tone. I had purchased Rico 2.5s. I am tempted to go down to 2.0 or evem 1.5 to see if it makes a difference. Thoughts?

    1. Post
  4. Hi, thanks for the article I have a cuestion, I’m using a 2.5 plasticover and I like to play soft and quiet but the reed sometimes respond and sometimes don’t I don’t have problems when I play louder just when it’s soft so I don’t know if it’s the reed or me should I keep using the same number or use a softer or a harder one, any recommendation?

    1. Post

      I would suggest playing on a Rico 2.5. One key for playing soft is to make sure you are adding pressure to the reed with your bottom teeth through your bottom lip. Sometimes we’re simply not adding enough pressure, which makes it difficult to play softly. Let me know how it goes.

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