Not getting a good tone on your saxophone or clarinet? Here’s why it could be your reed…

When you first started playing saxophone or clarinet, did you ever feel like you could never get a good tone no matter what you tried?

Did you try out every reed in the box, but still squeaked away?

If you teach, were you stumped when your students could not produce a good tone even though their embouchure and breath support were fine?

When a beginner musician encounters this problem, they don't realize that the problem could be the reed and not them (although if it is them, my course, Get a Killer Saxophone Tone, Sound like a pro without breaking the bank will help get a richer, fuller tone throughout the range of the horn).

We have all heard the saying that not every reed in the box works. There are reasons for this that we may not be aware of.

Many saxophone and clarinet musicians, as well as music educators believe that when reeds play poorly, it is because of bad cane.

In the 3rd part of my interview with Tom Ridenour, creator of the ATG Clarinet and Saxophone Reed Finishing System, we learn that it is not bad cane, it's bad cut.

 

“I've had a 5 year backlog of bad reeds that I can now get every single one to work…”

Bad cane affects the durability of the reed; the reed does not last long at all. (As Tom puts it, it's the 15 minute wonder reed; the reed plays well for 15 minutes, and then you wonder why you bought it!)  

Bad cut means that the structure of the reed isn't stable. In those situations, the tone sounds stuffy, breathy, can squeak a lot or not produce certain pitches clearly.

When we encounter a reed that doesn't play well, and we do not know how to adjust it to get it to work, here is what usually happens:

  1. We give up and throw away the reed.
  2. We put it in a drawer or storage and hope someday that it will work when we get “better” at performing.
  3. We continue to play on it, distorting our face to make it work because we don't want to waste the reed (reeds are expensive). Some also believe that the more we play on it, it will get better.
  4. If we are a Band Director and do not have a background in woodwinds, we think the student is doing something wrong with their embouchure, not realizing that it could very well be the reed and not all the student's fault.
  5. Beginners give up and quit, not realizing that there's a simple solution that will make every reed in the box work.

Tom Ridenour created the ATG Clarinet and Saxophone Reed Finishing System to take care of this exact problem. In fact, he initially was inspired to create this system for beginner students, who tend to get frustrated and quit when they have difficulty getting a proper tone.

Benefits of Adjusting Your Clarinet and Saxophone Reeds

It can be unsettling to wonder if your reed will work for an important performance. I can't even begin to tell you how many times both myself, and other professional players have said that they've spent hours on the day of a show trying to find the best reed that will hopefully last through the performance.

Band Directors have different needs.

  1. Keeping students interested and enrollment numbers up is important for the overall program. When students don't sound as good as they want, they quit. Taking care of the variable of an unstable reed can solve many of those problems. 
  2. Blend and intonation are super-important, especially at festival time. If many students' reeds are not balanced, students will resort to doing anything they can to get a good tone. This leads to biting, excessive sharpness and/or being flat in the extreme ranges of the instrument, fatigue, and pitches not speaking.
  3. No one wants to hear squeaking reeds during a performance, especially in the softer sections of a piece.

Many Band Directors have not received training on how to adjust reeds when they took Methods Class in college. In fact, there are not many (if any) courses available to train teachers on this subject.

One of the great aspects of the ATG System is that it comes with an instructional book and informative DVD that guides you through the adjustment process. In fact, it is not the adjustment process that is the hardest to grasp. As Tom puts it, if you know how to test the reed, that's 90% of the work right there.

What we are striving for is acoustical efficiency with your instrument and mouthpiece/reed combination: the degree to which you can play low, high, loud, soft with minimal embouchure air pressure exchange.

Listen here to find out more about acoustical efficiency and being able to focus on making music with our instruments.

Catch up with the previous interviews by clicking on the links to access part 1  and  part 2 of my BAM Radio Network interview with Tom Ridenour.

 

About Tom Ridenour

Tom Ridenour is a graduate of Murray State University in Murray Kentucky, and Yale University. He received a BA and MM degrees in clarinet performance for those institutions, graduating with honors from both schools. 

Tom has taught clarinet at the University of Connecticut, University of Georgia, Hartt College of Music, and Wesleyan University. He has given numerous performances of chamber music all over New England and New York City, toured as soloist with the New England String Quartet, performed at Lincoln Center, given a solo recital at WGBH Boston, been chief acoustical designer and manager of the Woodwind Company at G. Leblanc Corporation, is the only American to design a full line of professional clarinets for a great French clarinet maker, and has written three books on various aspects of the clarinet.  Tom's clarinet models for Leblanc were widely praise and used by professional clarinetists such as Eddie Daniels, Larry Combs, and Ricardo Morales.

In 2000 Tom published the first complete pedagogy of the clarinet in the history of the instrument, The Educator’s Guide to the Clarinet. It has been widely praised at the best book written on playing and teaching the clarinet. 

Prior to that he published “Clarinet Fingerings; a Guide for the Performer and Educator,” in 1985. It subsequently became the standard reference text for clarinet fingerings.

In 2005 Tom began Ridenour Clarinet Products, a company that sells and distributes his proprietary line of clarinets, hand made clarinet mouthpieces, and other products he has created, including the ATG Reed Finishing System, the world’s largest selling and most popular reed finishing method.

Tom ‘s clarinets are being played around the world and in several major orchestras.

Tom presently lives with his family, two dogs, and a belligerent cat in Dallas, Texas.

ATG Clarinet and Saxophone Reed Finishing System

Tom's ATG Reed Finishing System is so simple to use and will save musicians and clarinet and saxophone teachers tons of money on reeds because they can adjust every reed to work. 

Action Steps

  1. Here's the link again for  Part 1,  Part 2 , and Part 3 of my interview with Tom. 
  2. Check out Tom's Youtube channel, where there's plenty of educational videos and instruction.

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Comments

  1. Frank Monastero says

    Hi Donna my biggest problem is reeds I’d like to know how much the reed system costs please.
    I’ve played the sax for many years …sporadically,because I play guitar mostly.
    Your help would be much appreciated
    Ps your tips are great
    Regards
    Frank

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