Stating My (Reed) Case

Update on 26 July 2015: I recently discovered it is possible to get 10 humidity packs for the price of one! Check it out here. I’m very excited I found this!

“I feel prepared for my recital,” I told my teacher, “I just hope I have a reed that works!”

“You should have at least three good reeds to choose from for a performance,” she responded matter-of-factly.

Three good reeds?! All at once? At the time, I was shocked. I felt I had no control over the quality of my reeds and that all I could do was hope. Now, I regularly have more than three performance-ready reeds on hand. So what changed?

In my last post I wrote about breaking in reeds, which led to my biggest advance down the path to reed mastery. But what do you do once a reed is broken in correctly? How do you make sure your reeds continue to play well?  One answer is proper storage. Ideally, a reed case does three things: protects the reed tip, prevents warping, and controls humidity.

Level 1: Protect the Tip

The most basic level of reed storage is protecting the tip of the reed. If the tip chips, you can start drafting another reed eulogy. Luckily, protection is easily found with any case and even the plastic sheath most reeds are packaged in can suffice at this level. Remove the reed from the mouthpiece after each playing session and carefully place it in a case. This is a starting point, but a good case can offer much more!

 

Level 2: Prevent Warping

While a warped tip doesn’t toll the same death knell as cracking, it is generally a sign that a reed is in (rapid) decline. There are some tricks to flatten a warped reed, but I find a proactive approach to be the most effective. Basic reed cases like the Rico Reed Guard are an inexpensive option that can maintain a flat tip a bit better than the generic packaging.

 

Level 3: Control Humidity

Here’s where a case can go from passively holding your reeds to actively improving their consistency and longevity. In a case that maintains constant humidity, reeds are always ready to play, rarely warp, and are more dependable from playing session to playing session. Most serious saxophone and clarinet players I know are now using the Rico Multi-Instrument Reed Storage Case. I have a case for each of my saxophones and one for my clarinet. (Clearly I’m a fan!)

Each case contains a humidity pack that helps maintain homeostasis. I use the 72% packs which are intended from “minimal wetting.” With this humidity level, I barely need to moisten both ends of a reed and it is good to go. The Reed Vitalizer packs must be replaced every 45 to 90 days. If the pack feels like it contains a solid rather than a fluid, it is time for a new one. Each pack’s lifespan depends on a number of factors which can include external humidity and temperature, altitude, frequency of case use, and how moist the reeds are when they’re stored.

A note on drying: With the 72% humidity pack, I find I get the best results when I wipe off excess moisture with my fingers before storing. This also prevents any mold from developing.

 

Summary:

  1. Reed storage plays a real and important role in managing your reeds.
  2. Ideally a case protects from damage, prevents warping, and controls humidity.
  3. The Rico Multi-Instrument Case is my top recommendation for successful storage.

 

Click here for more saxophone lessons.

Break-in Reeds… Before They Break You

I’m not sure how to start this post without sounding like a cheesy infomercial, so here it goes: Are you tired of reeds sounding bad? Do you hate it when a reed is great one day and completely unresponsive the next? Then boy do I have good news for you pal! With these simple steps, all your reeds will play great, all the time, forever!

Ok, that last line was a bit of an exaggeration, but learning how to break in reeds properly has exponentially improved the consistency and quality of the reeds I use. With better-behaved reeds, practicing is more enjoyable and performing is less stressful. If you feel like you’re spinning the roulette wheel every time you set up to play, read (reed?) on!

The most frequent mistake when starting a new reed is using it too much, too soon. Reeds are made of porous cane, which must seal properly.  During this sealing process, it is crucially that the reed does not get oversaturated and become waterlogged. Waterlogging a new reed is like dropping an ice cream cone on the pavement. There’s so much potential and then…whomp whomp. The solution: only play a new reed for 3 minutes per day for the first full week of playing.

In addition to sealing the reed properly to avoid waterlogging, breaking in a reed is an opportunity to improve responsiveness and consistency for the life of the reed. To do this properly, you will need a piece of flat glass or plastic. Before and after each three-minute session, you will need to massage the vamp and polish the back.

To massage the vamp, place the back of the reed on the flat glass, hold it in place, and vigorously massage the filed part of the reed with your thumb for a few seconds. (Check out figure numero uno.) I find it helpful to focus on any rough patches and smooth them out over the course of the break-in.

Massage the Vamp

Massaging the Vamp

After massaging the vamp, place your fingers on the reed and, applying equal pressure with each finger, rapidly slide the reed back and forth on the glass to polish the bottom.  (Figure deux.)

Polish the Back

Polishing the Back

With this simple process, I hope you will experience the same jump in reed quality that I have!

Summary:

  1. Only play the reed for 3 minutes per day. Use a timer.
  2. Do this for one week.
  3. Massage the vamp and polish the back of the reed before and after each playing session.

 

In my next posts, I will go over how to store and cycle your reeds to make sure your reeds are always in great playing condition.

 

Click here for more saxophone lessons.

Blanket Fort Concert

DF will be putting on a concert in a giant Blanket Fort on February 20! We love finding fun new ways to share what we do. When the inspiration struck to do a show in a giant blanket fort, a wave of pillowy nostalgia came crashing over us. Blanket forts are a hallmark of childhood joy, something we’re hoping to recreate for our audience on a wintery evening.

Be a part of making this awesome event happen by joining our Indiegogo!

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/blanket-fort-concert