Making the Most of Ligatures

Do you make the most of your ligatures? Do you use more than one? I am not an equipment hound but have collected a variety of them over the years. Generally, I find something I like and stick with it. Occasionally I’ll get a new one to see what it has to offer. But overall, I use one ligature for everything.

This “one for all and all for one” attitude may be to our detriment. This became very apparent when I made the switch to Legere reeds. As with all reeds, you have to match the reed with the ligature that makes it easy to get the qualities that you are looking for. After finding the correct reed strength, I went on the hunt for the best ligature.

It took a while to do this on the saxophone. The problem was that I play many different styles on the saxophone. Because of this, I could not find one ligature that gave me everything that I wanted. I’m used to having a classical and a jazz mouthpiece but even with these there are times when I need to change my sound. For example, I’m playing a show where the band is on the stage. It is a small group so I do not need to have the power necessary for a big band and since it is on stage in a theater, the tonal quality is different than playing a combo gig. I know that there are those that play the same set up no matter what the setting. While this may work for some, I like being able to be adapt and blend to the situation.

In order to do everything I need I found that I would need to use different ligatures for different settings. I have one ligature that I use for pop, one for leading a big band, one for combo, one for theater, etc. All this using the same mouthpiece and reed.  Saxophone success!

To get more out of the ligature, one can change the angle against the reed. The Rovner’s are famously known to change the sound by tilting the ligature forward or backward on the reed but this can be done with nearly any ligature. In addition, there is the placement on the reed: how far forward or back. This too can change to tonal quality.

This helps on clarinet because we tend to use the same mouthpiece for everything: orchestral, chamber, Dixieland, etc. We often forget that each of these has different requirements. The easiest way to make the necessary change is through the ligature.  For example, chamber playing needs a nice warm sound with depth that blends well with others while Dixieland needs more cutting power and pitch flexibility for scoops and bends. By using different ligatures I can bring what is warranted for that style. On this same show mentioned earlier, I’m playing clarinet that has both chamber and Dixieland styles. What I ended up doing was to get a ligature for chamber and then adjusting the placement on the reed to facilitate playing the Dixieland parts: best of both worlds all through ligature selection and adjustment.

While you don’t have to become an equipment hound always chasing to newest things, it pays to have more than one ligature and to experiment with their angling and placement. Having the ability to make changes simply is a good thing, especially when you are dealing with finicky reeds. But that’s another story.


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