Saxophone Reed Placement: Why Your Reeds Squeak, Sound Muffled, Airy or Spitty

by ReverbLxnd in Saxophone

If your reeds are squeaking, sound muffled or are breathy airy or spitty, your problem will almost certainly be bad saxophone reed placement. Here's how to put a reed on a saxophone mouthpiece the right way to solve each of these problems.

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Today we are going to talk about perfect saxophone reed placement. Stick around to find out how to put a reed on your saxophone mouthpiece the proper way.

With beginners, 99% of the time there is a problem with the saxophone sound, it is either a bad reed or bad reed placement.

And this is a super easy fix.

So today I’m going to go in-depth on perfect reed placement on your saxophone. But first a quick summary:

Looking straight up your reed and mouthpiece, you want to see a thin black line outlining the tip of your mouthpiece behind the reed. That means that where the reed hits your mouthpiece, you should see a very small sliver of the mouthpiece. If you see a lot of the mouthpiece, it will be way harder to blow and if you see no mouthpiece the reed is up too high and you’ll squeak a lot.

Now, let’s go a little bit more in-depth into how you get this.

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How to Put a Reed on a Saxophone Mouthpiece

Perfect reed placement is at the dead center with the very tip of the mouthpiece showing above the reed. With perfect reed placement, you should get a full, easy sound that comes with a nice and clean tonguing.

If you get a razor-thin black line, that will give you the best sound no matter what reed you have on.

What Causes Squeaking on Saxophone? / What Causes the Saxophone to Sound Muffled?

Mistake #1 — The Reed is Placed too High Up (or Too Far Out)

If you are squeaking on the saxophone there is a very good chance that you are making one of the biggest mistakes in reed placement—putting your reed too high up (far out) on the mouthpiece.

If your reed goes above the tip of the mouthpiece, when you tongue the reed, it does not close properly up against the tip. That causes the air not to go into the mouthpiece correctly and catch it at the right time.

That’s how you end up with all kinds of crazy squeaks.

For new students, you can pretty much guarantee that you’ll get some squeaks when the reed is over the mouthpiece. For experienced players, however, the tone sounds muffled even if you don’t get any squeaks.

It won’t be nearly as clean, especially when you tongue because the air is getting cut off in a weird way.

What normally happens when you tongue, your tongue comes up and closes up the reed. If your reed is lightly below the mouthpiece, it does it perfectly.

Mistake #2 — The Reed is Not Centered

The second mistake you can make with reed placement that will cause your reed to squeak is the reed not being centered.

That means you have some extra space on the left-hand side or the right-hand side of the reed destroying your airflow.

This makes the air not be evenly separated and not to travel evenly throughout the reed.

Again, that completely messes up your sound, you end up with a fuzzy, buzzy squeaky sound. And you get the feeling that air struggles to get through the saxophone.

What Causes Your Saxophone to Sound Airy, Spitty or Breathy?

Mistake #3 — The Reed is Placed Too Low (or Far In)

If your saxophone sounds airy, you will have a thick black line if you look straight up your reed and mouthpiece because your reed is too low. This mistake is more common than the previous one we looked at (your reed being too high on the mouthpiece).

When a reed is too low, it allows more air into the mouthpiece which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Obviously, we want a lot of air going into the mouthpiece but we want controlled air.

The bigger the black line, the less control you’ll have over the air.

So the thinner the black line, the more control you have over your tone and the more you’re going to be able to tongue really easily.

When you cannot tongue easily, you don’t have nearly as much control. You’ll lose the center of your sound—your tone is not going to have a fat round sound to it.

It will sound flat and dull or airy and it will feel really hard to put air through it. Not flat as in out-of-tune but flat as in the note is not round, and it doesn’t have a full body to it.

That is why you can’t have a giant thick black line, air does not like it.

Top 2 Essential Tips for Proper Saxophone Reed Placement

Here are the tips you need to keep in mind when placing your reeds on the mouthpiece.

Tip #1 — Ligature Position Affects Reed Placement

Ligature position (placement) is pretty important for proper reed placement.

You want to have your ligature sitting on the fattest barrel part of the mouthpiece. If the ligature has a line on it, you want to have the ligature below the line.

If you position the ligature too far out, the reed doesn’t vibrate enough. And if you have it too far in, then you have too much of the reed vibrating.

Have it right at the center of the fattest part of the barrel if there is not marking to guide you.

Tip #2 — Is it a Cane or Synthetic Reed?

What we’ve covered so far is pretty much all you have to worry about, but if you are using a cane reed, there are several other things to factor in.

It doesn’t matter how well you place your reed. If you get one of the following wrong, it still won’t sound right.

Is the Reed Good or Bad (Is it Warped)?

A reed could sound bad just because it is a bad reed whether or not you place it properly.

It could just be that your problem is not bad placement, it is a bad reed.

Because once you wet cane reeds you never let them dry, in how to store saxophone reeds, I showed you how to store your cane reeds to make sure that they never warped or damaged.

Have a look at that if you haven’t.

Is the Reed Properly Wet?

If you have a synthetic reed you can skip this part because they don’t need wetting.

Assuming that you have a good cane reed, you need to make sure that you are soaking the cane reed properly.

In step #2 of how to break in new saxophone reeds, I showed you how to soak your cane reeds instead of wetting them with saliva, and went over a few reasons why you want to go with soaking instead of wetting.

Have a look at that too if you haven’t.

If you don’t wet a cane reed, no matter how well you place it, you will not get a good sound.

And that’s pretty much it.

For perfect reed placement, you want you reed dead center on your mouthpiece and you want to be able to see a thin black line of the mouthpiece above the tip of the reed. That’s how you get your best sound.

I hope that helps.


I've been a musician and brought in my stuff for mixing and mastering, I've been my own producer where I wrote, recorded, mixed and sold my own stuff. Now, I'm *mostly* an audio engineer, where I only record and mix for clients. I'm currently based in Berlin, Germany, where I operate ReverbLand out of. Got a question? DM me on Instagram or Twitter @reverblxnd everywhere, or shoot me an email [email protected]. I'd love to hear from you.

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