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What is the best position for a Sax reed? Is it to be level with the front edge of the mouthpiece or slightly ahead or behind the front edge? By how much. Is this the same for Clarinet too?

I have played flute for about 40 years of various styles - symphonic to folk to rock and Blues. now I am learning to play sax.

I understood that the reed's edge is to be at or equal to the front edge of the mouthpiece. However, I have found that if the reed is positioned forward/long of the front edge by about 0.5 mm that there is less squeaking. Is this my imagination or is it a personal thing that might work for me but not always for everyone.

How does this change the pitch of the instrument, i.e. flatten or sharpen the tones?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

When I am starting a beginner on saxophone or clarinet, I tell the student to align the reed so that it looks like the tip of the reed lines up with the tip of the mouthpiece when the student is holding the mouthpiece with the reed facing them. In doing so, typically, when viewed from the non-reed side of the mouthpiece, the reed will appear to protrude slightly past the end of the mouthpiece.

That is only a starting position, however. Pushing the reed farther off the tip of the mouthpiece (so that the reed protrudes farther) will make the reed effectively harder. The opposite will make the reed effectively softer. So, it is possible that the reeds you are using are just a little soft for you, and you are adjusting for that with the position on the mouthpiece. That would explain why you "squeak" less with the reed in the position you have it.

As you gain experience and sophistication with single-reed instruments, you may wish to experiment with different reed brands and/or strengths to find what you think sounds the best.

As far as pitch, moving the reed does not specifically affect the pitch, but there is a tendency for a harder reed to play slightly sharper because you have to use more pressure with the embouchure to get the reed to sound. If you are wanting to tune your saxophone, though, you should adjust the position of the mouthpiece on the neck rather than trying to do anything with the reed to compensate.

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"you may wish to experiment with different reed brands" - amen! I've had trouble making the lowest notes on my tenor sax since I acquired it a year ago, but only two weeks ago did fine down there with a different brand of reed. Same stiffness - 2 1/2, but so much nicer to play. –  DarenW Feb 13 '12 at 20:23
@DarenW Strength "numbers" have little meaning across brands anyway. A 2 1/2 Selmer Omega is likely to be quite different in strength from a 2 1/2 Vandoren, for instance. Also, because the different brands are often cut somewhat differently, it could be that the reed shape makes your new reeds softer in the low register. To some degree, you can diagnose and fix this issue yourself; see this answer (specifically the "Balancing and strength adjustment" section) for more information. –  Andrew Feb 13 '12 at 22:01

I play an Alora Vienna series intermediate grade tenor sax with a generic Usongs #8 metal mouthpiece I found on Amazon for $20, a Rovner leather ligature, and a #5 Fibracell reed. I've found that I have to position the tip of my reed perfectly with the edge of my mouthpiece and I even have to go so far as to re-mount my reed several times to get the positioning of my ligature correct. If not I always sqwank out on my low D. Now I know what you're thinking and no, I'm not a beginning player. I've been playing reed instruments for 10 years now (sax for the last 2 & 1/2) so it's not my embouchure. I really think it's the quality of my instrument combined with the type of mouthpiece I have. As soon as I find the five grand I left in my couch somewhere I'll buy my Cannonball sax though, lol. My point is, sometimes it's not so much the player or the technique as it is the equipment you have to work with which will determine the best placement of your reed on your mouthpiece.

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