Best Alto Saxophone reeds for beginners guide

Alto saxophone reeds for beginners

It can be a challenge choosing the right reed as a beginner sax player. That's why I put together this video and article, so that you can get a great start playing the saxophone.

What are the best Beginner Alto Saxophone Reeds?

Choosing the “right” Alto Saxophone reeds for you as a beginner comes down to a 3 core principals.

You need the right type of reed, the right thickness on the sax reed and finally you need to pick a reed brand that works well for saxophone beginners.

Here's the quick overview before I go into more detail below:  

  1. Reed size: Make sure you buy the right size of saxophone reeds that fit your saxophone (Alto Sax reeds)
  2. Reed Thickness: The thickness of your saxophone reeds is meassured in “Reed Strength”. For a beginner you will have most success getting 1.5 or 2 strength on your Reeds. For children 1.5 is best choice and for adults 2.0 will give you the best starting point
  3. Reed brands: There are many Sax Reed Brands to choose from. At this stage, as a saxophone beginner, you'll do best choosing one of the more established and recognized Reed brands like Rico or Vandoren.

To make things easier for you, I've made a short list of good saxophone beginner reeds on Amazon (sponsored link), so that you can get started in a good way.

When you click the link above you'll see “regular” Rico Reed in the reed box (and 3-pack). These are the ones I use with my saxophone students. However, I've also included the Rico Royal Reeds in the list as they also work well with beginner saxophonists.

What does Saxophone “Reed Strength” mean?

Reed strength on Saxophone Reeds refers to how thick the actual reed is. The thickness range from 1.0 up to 5.0 where 1 is thinnest and 5 is thickest. Saxophone Reed Strength for a beginner

Saxophone Reed materials

The Saxophone Reed Materials you can choose between is the regular Cane reed (most common), The Plastic Reed (a hybrid) and the Synthetic Reed (Plastic and Fibracell). The different materials will give you slightly different characteristics to your sound which can enhance your alto saxophone sound.

However, for a saxophone beginner I have a definite recommendation based on my experience as a saxophone teacher helping hundreds of students learn how to play the saxophone. Read about it below.

Alto Saxophone Cane Reeds

The Cane reed is the most common type of Alto Saxophone reeds. It's also the cheapest type of reed to get for your Alto Sax.

However, that doesn't mean that the cane reed is of less quality than other options.

Many professional saxophone players use Cane Reeds all the time, so there is no correlation between Cane reeds and just beginner saxophonists.

The Cane reed has always been the most popular choice for most sax players.

This is also my personal recommendation for a saxophone beginner based on my experience as a saxophone teacher.

Alto Saxophone reeds for beginners

(Tom Scott plays regular Cane Reeds)

It's also worth pointing out that it is common for saxophone beginners to break quite a few reeds, before they learn how to handle the Reeds and put the saxophone reed on the mouthpiece correctly. That's normal and part of the process.

From that point of view it also makes more economic sense to get a 10-pack of Rico Reeds instead of just one synthetic reed for the same price.

Plastic Cover Reeds for Saxophone

The Plastic Cover Reeds for Alto Saxophone combine a Cane reed with a layer of plastic. Making the Reeds more durable and lasting longer than traditional Cane Reeds.

You will also notice a difference in the surface of the plastic cover reed and from my experience it feels and plays a bit different than a regular Cane reeds as well. 

(Dave Koz plays Plastic Rico #3 Cover Reeds and Beechler Metal #7 Mouthpiece)

Synthetic Reeds for Alto Saxophone

The Synthetic Saxophone Reed is not the same as a regular cane reed even if it can look exactly like one. A synthetic material is more durable and you can play it for a much longer period of time before needing another one.

Now you may be thinking “why doesn't everyone use Synthetic sax reeds then”? Well, there are several reasons why synthetic reeds may or may not be a good fit for you.

If you are a saxophone beginner, synthetic reeds can become a costly solution as it's way more likely to break the sax reeds when you're just starting out learning how to handle the saxophone reeds. It's part of the learning curve.

If you are beyond the beginner stage however, then you could benefit from using synthetic reeds a lot. It also comes down to preference but if you give them a try you'll probably see the benefits of only needing maybe 2-3 reeds that will last you months instead of weeks.

Playing synthetics reeds are in many ways the same as playing regular cane reeds. The difference is that you do not need to wet the reeds before playing and from my experience they work great in situations where you alternate between different instruments.

Especially if you are playing different venues with a band where they use smoke machines and the humidity on set is different every night.

Flavored Reeds for saxophone

When I teach my students to play saxophone they quite common complain about the cane taste in the beginning. And I get it. It takes some time to get used to. However, there's been a few students that we had to find an alternate solution for and that's where I found out about flavored reeds.

These reeds play the same as any other cane reed. However, the difference is that they come in different flavors and also with a higher price tag.

So, even if I personally do not enjoy playing on flavoreeds, they have proven to be great for students that cannot handle the cane taste.

I should also point out that while playing on a Flavored Reed could “solve the problem” short term I recommend that you get yourself regular cane reeds as well.

They are more affordable and especially as a beginner you will find that they break and needs to be replaced often.

My experience with sax reeds

It can cost quite a bit of money buying saxophone reeds all the time. I know. I've been playing saxophone for more 35 years and from my experience the big investment over time as a saxophone player is the ongoing cost of buying reeds. 

I've also taught hundreds of saxophone students in person and thousands more online how to play saxophone.

So it's fair to say I have som experience when it comes to choosing the best reeds for alto sax beginners.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that I've probably spent over $10 000 on reeds myself through out my career as a saxophonist which I would consider a pretty substantial amount.

My recommendation for beginner sax players is to use regular cane reeds as they don't cost as much ($1-$2 a piece) compared to synthetic reeds that can cost between $20 and $25 a piece.

(Greger Hillman plays all three types of reeds)

I use all three types of reeds for my saxophones as they do bring different nuances to my overall sax sound. Switching between different types of reeds is nothing I would recommend to a beginner but for a more experienced saxophone player I'd encourage you to explore all three types of reeds as well.

The Cane, The Plastic Cover and Synthetic Reeds can make you shape your sax sound to different styles of music as well. 

What are the best alto saxophone reeds for beginners 2024?

The best alto saxophone reeds for beginners are cane reeds with 1.5 strength for children and 2.0 strength for adults. This will give you a good start playing saxophone.

Make sure you buy the right type of reed for your saxophone, so that it is for Alto Saxophone.

Can you play saxophone without a reed?

No, it's impossible to play a saxophone without a reed as it's the source of the saxophone sound. The reed needs to be attached to the mouthpiece and held in place by the ligature.

When blowing air into the mouthpiece the reed vibrates which makes the saxophone sound.

How to Handle and Prepare Saxophone Reeds

Once you get started playing saxophone you will need to get used to handling your saxophone reeds. As mentioned above it can become quite costly if you just play the reeds once and throw them away.

The key is to learn how to handle and prepare the saxophone reeds, so that you always have at least a couple of good reeds ready to go.

Watch this short video explaining exactly how to do this, so that your sax reeds last longer which also can save you a bit of money in the process.

Choose the right Saxophone Reed Size

The saxophone family is made up by 4 popular saxophone models. The Soprano, the Alto, The tenor and the Baritone saxophone. All four models are different in size which also include their mouthpieces.

That means you need to make sure you buy and use the right sized saxophone reeds for your saxophone type, so that it will match your saxophone mouthpiece size.