Just as one should warm up before performing a physical task, instruments could require their preparations before usage. When speaking of the saxophone, the reed plays a pivotal role. If the reed is not prepared (as in, not wet), it will not vibrate correctly, and, therefore, the instrument's functionality will be thwarted.
How long should saxophone reeds soak before and between use? Used reeds should be soaked for 1 minute before utilized – either with saliva, water, or mouthwash – so that they'll be wet enough to vibrate. Brand new reeds would need to break in, so they should be left to soak for roughly 20 minutes before they're attached to the mouthpiece the first time.
In this article, we'll be circling back on the explanation above. I'll provide useful tips for improving long-term reed performance.
Why Reeds Should Be Soaked Before Playing The Saxophone
As stated earlier, the reed should be capable of vibrating so that the air from our breath gets projected throughout the saxophone's bore.
For this purpose, we are compelled to soak our reeds. Saxophone reeds are made from a hard wood-like material prone to drying out. The reed won't budge or react to our actions in that state. Soaking makes the reed softer and more sensitive to external forces, such as air propulsion.
Related article: Are Harder Reeds Better Than Softer Reeds? (Woodwinds)
Soaking is not just reduced to wetting the surface. The reed's inner structure consists of tubules that deform and get compacted as they dry out. When we soak the reed, these tubules get filled with water. When set in motion, the water inside these tubules transmits this motion energy across the reed's interior, eliciting better vibration.
However, we should take care when attempting to soften our reeds.
A reed that is too soft (waterlogged) will not be able to vibrate properly because the bonds between the fibres weaken; hence, the mechanical energy is not properly transferred. We should be able to discern that a reed is waterlogged when it acquires a translucent appearance at the tip and when the saxophone produces a fuzzy and delayed response.
How To Soak New Reeds
New reeds require special treatment before first use via a process called “breaking in”, adapting the reed to a specific setup with constant wetting and testing.
We'll not be elaborating deeply on how the process is carried out, but, naturally, new reeds would have to be soaked for a longer period so that the adaptation or breaking in is carried out smoothly.
With that said, the first time you use a brand new reed, it should be soaked for at least 5-15 minutes before it's placed on the mouthpiece (though some experts claim you should wait as long as 20 minutes). That would allow the reed to turn soft enough to shape up and find its place within its new “habitat”.
Keep in mind that mouthpieces can vary considerably in their dimensions, and embouchures also vary according to the player. In a way, the reed should blend, not only with the mouthpiece but with your mouth as well.
After the second and third time, you can progressively reduce the soaking times, provided that you “feel” that that reed sits comfortably with the rest of the gear.
For more information on breaking in new saxophone reeds, check out my article How To Break In A New Saxophone Reed Step-By-Step.
How Long Should I Soak My Saxophone Reed Between Uses?
As stated at the beginning, after the reed has been successfully broken in, you would only need to soak it for one minute before its placement on the mouthpiece.
Some people would use their own saliva to wet the reed beforehand. It may work as a last resort and get you through situations in which you have no other choice. However, as we'll see shortly, saliva can be heavily detrimental to your reed in the long run.
It bears repeating that you ought not to leave your reed soaking for more than necessary, which could cause it to waterlog. Waterlogging could potentially cause permanent damage to your reed (though it could be reversed in many cases, the reed may still demand some time to recover its shape.)
Finding ways to keep the reeds wet between uses is often recommended. This could be achieved through various methods, You'll be able to find a myriad of market alternatives, but we'll only mention two examples:
- D'Addario Woodwinds Multi-Instrument Reed Storage Case with Humidity Control Pack: This, as the name suggests, is a storage case that keeps your reeds under a relative humidity of 72% so that they don't crack, warp, or chip.
- Reedjuvinate: It's a leak-proof case containing a sponge in the middle and three reed slots. You would only need to drench the sponge in a mouthwash/water solution for some minutes. The wet sponge would contact your reeds, maintaining them slightly wet.
How To Soak A Reed
Some players affirm that using your own saliva is enough. It is not advised to use saliva for a plethora of reasons.
The main reason is that saliva is too viscous to penetrate the reed's fibre and fill its tubules or Xylem. Another important reason is that we would transfer pathogens to it and make it susceptible to attracting more mould, aside from the foul odour the reed would acquire after a short while.
The preferred liquid for many saxophonists is mouthwash (“Listerine” or similar). Mouthwash not only sterilizes the reeds but fills them with a pleasant and fresh aroma. Some players also recommend placing the reed in recipients partially filled with mouthwash to keep them wet and sanitized. As said in the previous section, keeping a reed slightly wet is an effective way to prevent warping.
Water peroxide could also be utilized, but be mindful of its toxicity. You would want to rinse the reed after submerging it and before placing it in your mouth.
Related article: How To Keep A Saxophone Reed Wet