new reeds should be treated carefully during their first few playings
in order for them to perform well for a long period of time. While
the temptation to simply “wet the reed and go” is there,
a more deliberate breaking-in process will prove beneficial. This method
is very simple yet somewhat time-consuming, but it has continued to
be successful for me and my students for many years.
me also preface this by saying that I am not a heavy “reed-worker;” I
do very little sanding, scraping, etc. on the saxophone reed. I am
not opposed to it and many of my colleagues in the saxophone world
spend lots of time working on reeds; however, I personally do not do
it. So, if you are looking for tips about reed alteration, this is
not the place!)
is my step-by-step process for breaking in new reeds:
Wet the reed
well, either in your mouth or in a glass of water.
the reed for no more than one minute. Play some long tones,
scales, arpeggios, etc. at moderate dynamic levels. Do not
do anything “out
of the ordinary” such as altissimo, extended techniques,
etc. Place a mark on the butt end of the reed so you will know
you have played it once. Do not make a decision on whether you
like the reed or not yet…it will change by the next
time you play it!
Allow the reed
to dry completely in some sort of a reed storage container. This
usually takes several hours. It is generally best to wait until
the next day.
number 2, increasing the playing time to two minutes. Allow to
dry again (repeat step 3). Be sure to mark the reed again to keep
track of the number of times you have played it.
2 and 3 again, increasing the playing time on the reed each time
by a minute or two. Do this until you have played on the reed a
total of four times.
you can decide whether to keep it in your “rotation” or
behind this method: Reeds change a great deal within the
first few playings, and it is important for them to get accustomed
to the process of getting wet and drying out. By breaking the reed
in gradually, the change the reed will undergo from one playing
to the next will not be as drastic. For example, a brand new reed
may feel golden, and thus you want to play on it for a while. You
end up playing on the reed for an entire concert, practice session,
etc., and you go back to the same reed the next day and it plays
completely differently. It may have even begun changing while you
were playing on it the first time! This is what I call “playing the reed out.” If you had played on it only
briefly the first time, it is more likely that the reed will respond
in a similar way the next time, and the next, etc. Plus, a slower break-in
process will prolong the life of the reed since it is not “played
out” so close to the beginning of its life.
I have played the reed four times and still decide I do not like it,
I do NOT throw it away! I put it in its plastic case (the one in which
it came), write the date and perhaps a brief comment or two about the
reed on it, and put it in my reed drawer. I will periodically go back
to those reeds and will find some gems! Lots of changes take place
over time: the reed itself may change, your mouthpiece may slightly
change, your embouchure may have undergone some alterations, and so
on. Regardless, I have reeds over five years old in my drawer that
I will save until I play on them! Why spend all that money to throw
away the reeds that you do not like? I only throw the reed away once
its life span has expired.