How to put a reed on a saxophone mouthpiece

🎷 Written by: Greger Hillman, Your friendly saxophone teacher online

In this lesson you will learn 7 easy steps on how to put a reed on a saxophone mouthpiece. On top of that you'll get my personal insights, tips and tricks to get you better results playing the saxophone.

These are insights gathered over the past 35 years of playing and teaching saxophone. Let's get started! / Greger, Your friendly saxophone teacher.

Step 1: Assemble the mouthpiece and saxophone neck

Start by removing the ligature from the mouthpiece. That's the round clamp with screws that goes around the saxophone mouthpiece. Simply loosen the screws a bit (do not remove) so that you remove the ligature.

Next, assemble the saxophone neck and mouthpiece by pushing down the mouthpiece gently onto the cork and wiggling it from side to side. 

You should be able to do this with little resistance. However, if you find it hard to get the saxophone mouthpiece down on the neck you can apply cork grease (vaselin) to the cork on the neck to make it easier.

The opening of you mouthpiece and the larger opening on the neck (not yet used) should be pointing in the same direction. (When you eventually put the saxophone together they will both be facing down.)

Note from the saxophone teacher: The reason you want to put the neck and mouthpiece together before adding the reed is that the reed will easily slide out of position if you do not have the neck and mouthpiece already assembled. This is a common issue that many saxophone beginners encounter but, with this method, it will not be an issue anymore.

Step 2: Wet the saxophone Reed

Start by removing the reed from its plastic casing holding on to the thick part of the reed.

Next, Put the thin end of the sax reed in your mouth for about 10 seconds. You want to make the entire reed wet so after 10 seconds switch it around and put the thick part of the reed in your month for another 10 seconds. Make sure not to bend or hit the thin end as it needs to be undamaged to work properly.

Note from the saxophone teacher: If it's your first time you'll notice the taste of wood and as a saxophone beginner it can take a while to get used too. Eventually it will become second nature. Meanwhile, if you really do not want to make the sax reed wet with your mouth you can use a glass of water and put the reed there for about 20 seconds.

Step 3: Wet the Mouthpiece flat surface

You want to wet the flat surface of the mouthpiece in order to get a good seal between the mouthpiece and saxophone reed. This is very important in order to get any sound out of your saxophone.

You do this by simply putting the upper part of the reeds flat side onto the mouthpiece dragging it downwards leaving saliva on the flat surface. 

Note from the saxophone teacher: Make sure to handle the reed gently at all times and to avoid pushing too hard down on the mouthpiece. You should always stay away from pushing och fingering the thinnest part of the read (the tip) as it can break easily. Just be careful and you'll be fine.

Step 4: Line up the Reed and Saxophone Mouthpiece

Before you get started with this step you should make sure you have the ligature (metal ring) nearby as you will need it in the next step and these to steps needs to be completed after each other.

First, hold the neck and mouthpiece where they connect with both openings facing upwards. 

Next, place the flat surface of the reed onto the flat surface of the sax mouthpiece with the thickest part of the reed facing back towards the angled saxophone neck.

Line up the Reed on the mouthpiece by adjusting it on the middle and lower (thicker) part of the reed. The tip of the reed should be in line with the tip of the mouthpiece. If it sticks out beyond the edge of the mouthpiece you can cut your tongue (not pleasant) when tonguing notes so make sure it's in line or a hair below the tip. Take your time here.

Note from the saxophone teacher:  Avoid pushing the tip of the reed at all times as it can easily break or get damaged. If that happens it will affect the integrity of the reed and it will not be able to vibrate freely. Less vibration will result in a reed that is hard to play and your saxophone sound will suffer at the same time. 

Step 4: Place the Ligature over the mouthpiece 

When you've positioned the reed on the mouthpiece (step 4) its time to lock it in place with the Ligature (That metal ring with screws on it).

First, make sure you have loosened the screws so that the ligature will fit over the tip of the mouthpiece and back over the thickest part of the mouthpiece. If not, adjust the screws on the ligature to make it fit.

Looking at your ligature you should be able to see that one of the two openings is slightly larger than the other. You want to slide the larger side of the ligature over the tip of the mouthpiece first to make it fit correctly. 

Make sure to slide the ligature back onto the “unfiled” portion of the read. Most saxophone mouthpieces also have a line that the ligature should move past in order to get the correct position of the ligature. 

Note from the saxophone teacher: This process can be a bit tricky at first but give it some time and make sure that the read still lines up with the mouthpiece, so that the curved tip is in line with the tip of the mouthpiece. This is super important as it will is vital for getting a good saxophone sound when you play.

Step 5: make final adjustments and tightening the ligature

Double check the reed position as you tighten the screws on the ligature to fix the reed in place. If you need to make slight adjustments just loosen one or both screws on the ligature.

Also, if you cannot get the ligature to fit on the mouthpiece make sure to double check that you have put it on the mouthpiece the right way. (Oh yes, it does happen that the ligature gets turned around by mistake)

Note from the saxophone teacher: This step can take a bit of tinkering in the beginning, but as I mentioned you need to get the reed positioned correctly on the saxophone mouthpiece in order to be able to play the saxophone at all. Take your time and redo if you need to.

When you've done this 7-10 times you'll notice it will become a lot easier as you get used to the process.

Step 6: Assemble the neck with the saxophone body

First, put down the saxophone neck (w/ mouthpiece and reed) on a table within reach.

Next, grab the saxophone body by the bell and lift it up to your lap (sitting down). Secure the saxophone with the neck strap on the back of the saxophone body.

  • If you are a bit shorter (children) the easiest way to assemble the sax neck with the body will be by letting the sax hang next to your right side while sliding the neck onto the top of the saxophone body.
  • If you are a bit longer (adults) you can place the saxophone between your legs with the saxophone bell facing forward. Hold on to the upper part of the saxophone with the left hand and slide the neck onto the top of the saxophone body.

That's it! Now you know how to put a Reed on a Saxophone Mouthpiece and you are ready to play the saxophone!

If you need help on how to position the mouthpiece to get a good saxophone sound I recommend the Saxophone Embouchure for beginners tutorial here.

Also, there's the free saxophone fingering chart PDF download here if you need help figuring out how to play the notes on your sax.

Step 7: Remove the reed after your practice session on the sax

When you are done practicing the saxophone for the day you should always remove the reed from the mouthpiece to keep it in good shape for your next practice session.

This applies to both wood reeds and synthetic reeds as they all do cost quite a bit of money and you want to make sure you get the most out of each and every one.

You can remove the reed safely and pack up the saxophone in a few different ways. I'll list a good workflow for saxophone beginners below that will keep both your saxophone and reeds in good shape.

Method for safely removing the saxophone read and putting the saxophone away

  1. Hold your saxophone in your lap with the bell facing down onto your left knee and the saxophone neck facing up on your left side.
  2. Grab and hold on to the mouthpiece with your left hand. Position the left thumb on the bottom of the reed while palming the saxophone neck.
  3. Use your right hand to loosening the screws on the ligature slightly and slide it up and over the mouthpiece while keeping the reed fixed with your left thumb on the bottom of the reed.
  4. Put the ligature to the side and use both hands to secure the reed and place it upside down on a table or flat surface next to you, with the curved side of the reed facing down.
  5. Remove the saxophone neck from the body by loosening the screw holding it in place and put it away to the side for now.
  6. Grab the saxophone body by the bell and lift it up into your lap with the bell facing up. Secure the register key mechanics with the plastic cover that comes with the saxophone and put it down into the saxophone case.
  7. Dissemble the neck and mouthpiece before putting them back into the saxophone case.
  8. Pick up the saxophone reed and wipe off any excess moisture on the reed before placing it in a reed case. Make sure it's “flat surface on flat surface” in the reed case to prevent the reed from becoming “wavy”. That's one of the most common reasons for reeds not working properly the 2nd time around.
  9. Close the lid. That's it. Here's a virtual High five 👋 for you. Well done! Now you can start thinking about your next practice session and what a saxophone god you'll become as you practice more and more.

Final thoughts

Now you know how to put a Reed on a Saxophone Mouthpiece and so much more. I hope you enjoyed this saxophone lesson and the extra insights I provided in the notes from the saxophone teacher above.

Above all, remember to have fun playing the saxophone. Make sure to subscribe to the LearnSaxophone Youtube channel for more saxophone videos. Play on! /Greger

About the author

Hi there. I’m Greger Hillman, your friendly saxophone teacher online with a passion for playing and teaching the saxophone. It’s been over 35 years since I picked up the sax for the first time and it was love at first sight.

If you are just getting started playing saxophone I’m really excited for you and I’m looking forward to helping you become a better sax player starting rigt now. Check out the articles below.

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