Mechanical, anatomical and modeling techniques for alto saxophone reed evaluation and classification


This study evaluates alto saxophone reed stiffness characterization techniques using several approaches, including a unique point-stiffness methodology and anatomical image analyses. Point-stiffness is experimentally characterized at multiple locations along the tip of the reed to capture spatial variability in stiffness. Forty-eight reeds of varying manufacturer-rated stiffness (but identical cut) were analyzed with respect to point-stiffness and anatomical structures. Observations of point-stiffness variability in these reeds are made and illustrate the shortcomings of typical manufacturing sorting methods. Point-stiffness measurements and perceptual evaluation of a subset of eight reeds were performed concurrently by a professional musician playing on the reeds regularly over a 2.5 month duration. Single values of point-stiffness at specific tip locations are found to be correlated with the musician’s perceptual rankings, and point-stiffness variations between each of the tested reed tip locations (termed asymmetry) are found to be important for interpreting the musician’s rankings of ‘soft’ and ‘stiff’ reeds. Anatomical evaluation of the reeds is performed using optical microscopy to aid in quantifying the differences in point-stiffness observed between reeds. Correlations between point-stiffness and anatomical structures are found and an effective point-stiffness model, dependent on these anatomical structures, is developed. Good agreement between the model and measured point-stiffness is observed. These results could help in the development of more accurate sorting and categorization methods for manufactured reeds, reducing the variability often observed by musicians.

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The authors wish to acknowledge the support of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology at McGill University. Thanks is also owed to professor Remi Bolduc of the Schulich School of Music for his playing time through this study. Professor Francois Barthelat of the Laboratory for Biomaterials and Bioinspiration and Professor Larry Lessard (both of the Mechanical Engineering Department at McGill) contributed greatly with experimental design and usage of laboratory equipment.

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Kemp, C., Scavone, G. Mechanical, anatomical and modeling techniques for alto saxophone reed evaluation and classification. Wood Sci Technol 54, 1677–1704 (2020).

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