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Alto Saxophone Reeds

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For a saxophonist, the only thing more important than your alto saxophone reed is the horn itself. Because replacing them is a routine part of playing the sax, it is important to keep extra reeds close at hand while performing. Reeds are very delicate, and sometimes all it takes is a bump against the music stand or even your clothes to leave one chipped. Beyond that, even the most careful saxophonist will have to replace reeds when they wear out. If you play your saxophone regularly, you should expect to go through several replacements over the course of a year. Reeds are made in a range of strengths, numbered by hardness. While the numbers normally run from 1 through 5 or 6, one important thing to keep in mind is that the scale isn't standardized. What this means is that one reed maker's 2 might be another's 1. A Rico 3 reed, for example, is objectively softer than a Vandoren 3. Keep this in mind when picking out your reeds—if you're trying a new brand, it's not a bad idea to check with another player who has tried that reed to find out how soft or hard they run compared to your usual choices. That way you can pick the strength that will best match what you're used to. For new players, it's a good idea to start with a soft reed (usually a number '2') and then progress to stiffer reeds as your skills and lip technique advance. Apart from strength, the most important choice to make in picking out a reed is whether to go with natural cane or a synthetic material. The answer normally depends on how you will be using the saxophone. For orchestral or concert use, players will usually opt for a natural reed due to its classic tone. The latest advancements in synthetic reeds have made it possible for them to hold their own against natural cane, with frontrunners like the Legere Signature Series and Harry Hartmann Fiberreed being discovered by more and more musicians. Synthetic reeds are known for outstanding durability and resistance to warping and splitting, as well as the advantage of not needing to be moistened. Because of this, you may wish to do what many players do in using cane reeds for your regular sax and synthetic reeds for outdoor use or for an instrument that you play only once in a while. Whatever your choice, natural or synthetic, much of how your alto saxophone reed sounds will come down to how you play it. Match your reed to the best-fitting ligature that you have and get plenty of practice with a new strength or material of reed to make sure you're used to it before you bring it out in a performance.