A saxophone, like all woodwind instruments, requires a reed in order to be played. The reeds are made of bamboo, and are wider than other woodwind reeds. They are designed to fit the mouthpiece of the saxophone, with a shaved end that should be moistened before use. Reeds are available in different sizes, brands and strengths. The hardness of the reed is chosen based on a saxophone player's mouth embouchure and style of playing. Tenor, alto and all other style saxophones require different reed sizes, but the reed itself should be installed in the same manner.
Fill a cup with water that is room-temperature. Place the reed into the water so that the end that your mouth will be placed upon is completely submerged. Let the reed soak for at least three minutes. You may also place the reed onto your tongue to soften it with saliva instead of water in a cup. If the reed is brand new, soak it in a cup for a couple hours before use.
Loosen the ligature on the mouthpiece by unscrewing it slightly. Slide the reed gently against the flat opening of the mouthpiece so that the flat part of the reed is touching it.
Slide the reed down so that there is a tiny gap between the tip of the reed and the tip of the mouthpiece. The gap should be no bigger than half a centimetre (around 3/16 inch). The more the reed is slid down, the softer the sound will be.
Align the reed with the mouthpiece so that it is straight on the left and right sides. If the reed is crooked, the saxophone will be harder to play.
Tighten the screws on the ligature, making sure it is not covering the shaved part of the reed. There is a mark on some reeds and saxophones meant as a guide of placement for the ligature.
Make sure the ligature is slid down the mouthpiece at least three-quarters from the tip of the reed.
If the reed is wavy or cracked, do not use it because it is most-likely warped and will result in the saxophone making squeaking sounds when played.