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Reeds a whole set of questions!


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Ok, I am an adult learner who has defected after playing brass for 20+ years. I have bought a second hand john packer 041 with the idea of selling it and buying better if I enjoy playing and find I have time to play!
I have had my sax a few weeks and am planning to have a few lessons after Christmas. In the meantime:

Which reeds are best? My sax came with a couple of 1.5 rico reeds - are vandoren any better?

Should I upgrade the mouthpiece? If so what to?

At present I am struggling with the lower notes - anything below g is a struggle although I can play them when slurring - any tips? I am having no problems with the higher end!

Any help or general tips greatly appreciated!

Thanks in advance
Hello Yokel,

I have bought a second hand john packer 041 with the idea of selling it and buying better if I enjoy playing and find I have time to play!

An Alto or Tenor? I knew someone who had/has (we've not been in contact for a while) a John Packer 041 alto, he got it from John Packer's in Taunton and they set it up with a Selmer neck and it had a lovely tone and it proved to be a very good and well built instrument. If you take to it you might find the instrument proves to be a worthy companion for you for quite some while.

Which reeds are best? My sax came with a couple of 1.5 rico reeds - are vandoren any better?

Which ever ones play well for you, do a sample pack of reeds that might be worth trying if you want to experiment.

Should I upgrade the mouthpiece? If so what to?

A Yamaha 4c is usually suggested for beginners but your current mouthpice might be fine, a teacher will help you out.

At present I am struggling with the lower notes - anything below g is a struggle although I can play them when slurring - any tips? I am having no problems with the higher end!

Air support and practice are you friends, but sometimes it takes a while for them to befriend you! In the mean time when trying to get the low notes imagine you are huffing hot air onto a window to steam it up.

Best wishes,

Thanks Chris
It is an alto - I got it from the actual John Packer shop and it's an ex rental but looks like the previous owner only looked at it and never actually played it!
I will order some reeds so thanks for that link.
And I will def try the huffing idea!
Thanks again!
ho yokel and welcome
i have only been playing for 3 months ,i play a 2 reed and a 4c mouth piece on an alto
all the best keep it up
Seeing you are planning to take lessons quite soon, my advice would be not to change anything for the time being. Rico reeds, BTW, are fine. In time you will find the right strength. If you can get the lower notes when slurring, keep on doing that. Gradually work your way down to C, but there is no urgency for getting there. Also try to play little tunes (make them up) with the notes you can play. In a year's time you will wonder what the problem had been.
Right now the big thing you want to do is focus on the basics. I wouldn't worry too much about the mouthpiece unless you feel that it is holding you back in some way.

For reed brand, Rico or Vandorin, it doesn't matter. It is a preference thing and the sound you are trying to get. Until you get a solid embouchure and have a good idea of what you want to sound like you don't need to worry about reed brands. However, I would suggest that you get a stronger reed. A 2.5 or 3 reed strength. I say this because a 1.5 reed vibrates to easily. That makes it really easy to develop a bad embouchure. For beginning saxophonist like yourself it is important that you learn the proper embouchure to playing the saxophone.

As for the low notes they will come with time. This is assuming that there are no leaks in the horn and that it is in proper adjustment. The best exercise for developing the control you need for low notes is to play long tones and gradually work down the horn. Eventually you will be able to play the low Bb without having to slur down to it.
Sorry, you're getting some conflicting stuff here.

1 - Vandoren/Rico - no issues here, but be aware that Vandorens are about half a strength harder for the same number - so a Vandoren 2 is about a rico 2.5. Personally I wouldn't mess around with different brands yet, unless your new teache says there's a problem. Unless it's clearly a long way out, change reed strenght a half at a time. And.... wider mouthpieces need softer reeds (in general).

2 - Getting below low G - this shouldn't be too difficult, even if you're just starting. Could be you're using your brass embouchure and squeezing too tight. Could be a crummy mouthpiece. Could be a leak.... As well as what was said above. Harder reeds will make the poblem worse, unless you're already overpowering the reeed/clamping down too much. You need to experiment here. Generally as you go lower, more breath support is needed, and if you embouchure is too tight, it'll give you the note, but a register high (as if the octave key was pressed). If this doesn't sort it out, and you can't wait for your teacher, get the sax checked for leaks, and try other mouthpieces. Apart fom the Yamaha, you could try a Rico Graftonite B5 or B3 (smaller opening). I'm not suggesting an expensive alternative, but you do want a mouthpiece that's reasonably OK to play, and a lot of the stock mouthpieces on the bottom end saxes are difficult to play...
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Following on from Kev the main issues about lower notes for me would be:

1. Main issue is likely to be air support, and the need to play looser but with good breath support. I would suggest playing long notes from A downwards and seeing how long you can hold the same note (10, 15 seconds would be good.) concentrate on A & G to start, then gradually add one every few days or so, in order that you have the time to gradually adapt your embouchure and breath support.

2. Mouthpiece might be an issue if it is a small chamber, or too narrow a tip opening, so that lower sounds are a little harder - as with a shallow brass mouthpiece. A key difference to brass mouthpieces is that the ligature/reed/mouthpiece combo does the work that the embouchure does on a brass instrument -primarily you are simply providing air at various speed, tonguing, slurring etc. but with the same embouchure.

3. You may need to prepare your reeds by soaking them first and stroking them with a thumb on a flat surface to compact the fibres - this may also help with lower notes. See the Superial website for advice on how to prepare reeds. They do need to be moist enough to resonate at lower levels

4. It is unlikely to be a leak as John Packer are very good at setting up saxes before they leave.

5. Make sure that your ligature is not on too tightly as it can make a difference - it should be just tight enough, but no more.

I hope that this is of some help - what brass instruments have you been playing, by the way?

Kind regards
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Problems from G down are not uncommon for beginners - and the fact that you're able to slur onto the notes points to nothing more sinister than a developing embouchure.
However, it's always worth checking the mechanics as it's a simple test that takes barely a minute.

Find a cigarette paper - or failing that some thin polythene, such as that used to wrap chocolate boxes etc. Cut off a strip tapering to a point about 5mm across.
Assemble the horn and lift the crook octave key pad ( the small pad that sits atop the crook...about three inches away from the mouthpiece ). Slip the fag paper under the pad and let the key drop down...then gently pull the paper out. You should feel resistance as the pad grips the paper.
Now finger an octave G and repeat the test. The octave G will activate the body octave key ( a similarly small pad about two inches down from the tenon socket...the bit where the crook fits in to ) but should leave the crook pad closed.
If the octave key thumb piece feels spongy ( i.e. when you press it it doesn't come to a positive halt ), press it down a little firmer. This is a very common problem, and may result in the crook key rising slightly ( which is not good ).

Now finger an octave A. You will see the crook key pad opens, and the body pad closes. Finger an octave G again and place the paper under the body octave key pad...lift the G finger...the body octave pad will now close. Pull on the paper to test the resistance.

To make any suggestions, we need to know which mouthpiece you have.
So the m'piece tip opening (lay) sounds as though it is too narrow for you. A harder reed would help matters, but may still not be the correct remedy.
You can bet your boots, it is one or the other!
I think in general most of our money would be on the m'piece, and as Kev says the Rico m'pieces are fine, and as cheap as chips.
Once again let us know (if you can) the m'piec make and number (4C, B5. etc).
And welcome to the forum.

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2.5 or 3 too strong for a beginner, no?

I don't think that a 2.5 or 3 is too strong for a beginner? This is exactly what my teacher had me do when I started playing the saxophone. He told me to start with a 2.5, and it worked great for me. So I stand by what I said earlier. My experience shows that it works.
Which mouthpiece were you using though. I bet it was a close lay!
The whole point is, that unless you know the mouthpiece being used you cannot make recommendations. Even then it is "Hit & Miss" as we are all different.

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If you're interested, I have an article you can look at (the second link in my sig).

As for reeds, maybe you should try a 2 thickness. What exactly are you having trouble with concerning the low notes?
Thank you to everyone for your speedy replies.
I have taken into account the comments and have adjustedthe embouchure and hey presto I'm getting there!
I think it was a combination of wanting to get there too quickly and, as someone mentioned, being a brass player (trombone and the baritone for the person who asked!)
I think I will buy a new mouthpiece as the sax only came with what I assume is a basic John Packer mouthpiece and on their website they recommend upgrading - so next questions ....
would a yamaha 4c be the right choice?
and would I need a new ligature or should the current one fit?

Thanks again for all your help - I was getting a bit disheartened but you have all spurred me on!
I think I will buy a new mouthpiece as the sax only came with what I assume is a basic John Packer mouthpiece and on their website they recommend upgrading

I bought a bari from JP and they said exactly the same, so I bought a Yam 5 with the sax - honestly, it is no better than the one supplied as standard. In fact I prefer the standard piece. So do try before you buy.
Hi Yokel!

If you have been used to a trombone/baritone sized mouthpiece I would possibly go for something slightly bigger than a Yamaha 4c. The three cheaper mouthpieces available include the plastic Yamaha (5c or 6c maybe better -about £30), the Rico Graftonite (something like an A3, with a slightly larger chamber - approx £15) or the Runyon 22 in a 5 or 6 aperture (comes with its own ligature - about £30).
As has been said you may find it beneficial to also try some "2" strength reeds - perhaps with the packs, or you might want to investigate who sell Rico & Vandoren reeds in packs of 3, have the Rico mouthpieces and are P&P free. This should at least give enough variation so that you can see what works best at this stage. When I started trombone I bought a Wick 6BS first, as on trumpet I played quite a large mouthpiece - 17mm upwards. I gradually switched to a smaller size trombone mouthpiece as I discovered that 25.1mm was my upper limit ( settling on a Rath 7S). It sounds like Dooce learned something from buying a Yamaha 5 mouthpiece and that the standard mouthpiece was quite good. You never know until you know.

Kind regards


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