The World’s Longest List of Oboe Reed Tips
PLAN AHEAD for your reed needs
Do you have concerts, recitals or important lessons coming up in the near future?
Know your oboe calendar and plan accordingly–if you have 2 reeds in your case and a solo competition in 3 weeks, order 2 or 3 reeds ASAP.
Not only will you have the added security of a few extra reeds should something bad happen, but you’ll also allow ample time to break-in your new reeds, have your teacher work on them if need be, or have them replaced in the event they arrived damaged.
FIXING A LEAKING reed is easy, just annoying.
You’ve got two options: teflon tape and fishskin.
Teflon tape is available at hardware stores and is used by plumbers, since it is waterproof and sticks to itself. It comes in small rolls in white and easily wraps around a reed at the base to fix a leak. Fishskin is the more traditional material used (available through specialty oboe shops), and although it is gummier and slipperier than teflon tape, it is thinner, and is also clear (so less noticeable). Both methods work fine.
ISOLATE THE REAL PROBLEM when you’re having trouble with notes speaking on the oboe.
Low notes are notoriously stuffy and hard to attack on the oboe, and everyone’s quick to blame the reed when things feel especially bad down there. Often times, however, your oboe’s adjustment (or lack thereof) is the true problem. Have your teacher check your oboe’s adjustment periodically and try tooting the reed by itself (not in the oboe) to make sure it feels easy and free-blowing.
Knowing the right problem to solve is half the battle.
IF YOU FORGET a reed is soaking in water and leave it there for a really long time, don’t worry, the damage isn’t permanent. Reeds can’t drown.
Allow the reed to sit a few days and dry out completely before playing it, and it should be fine.
TO GET THE BEST SOUND out of any reed, most players should put less reed in their mouth, get their chin up and bell down, and blow more air.
Try it and see!
DON’T GET EMOTIONALLY attached to your reeds.
Respect and enjoy your reeds for the performances and good times you have playing them. But know that reeds die and life goes on. The less attached you get to each reed, the easier it will be adapting to new ones. The more easily you adapt to new reeds, the better player you will become.
Even if you don’t know how to make or scrape reeds, you still have the power to make your reeds as comfortable to play as possible.
Try these simple reed tricks:
-Gently pinch the FULLY SOAKED reed open at the tip to make it more open, louder, and to allow more air to flow through it. -Gently pinch the FULLY SOAKED reed closed at the tip to make a wide opening more manageable and the pitch more stable. -Soak a reed less time if it seems really hard to play and too open at the tip. -Soak a reed for longer if it seems closed and wimpy. -Soak a reed in hot water to breathe a little more life into it.
KNOW WHO TO ASK for reed help if you feel like your reed needs scraping and you can’t do it yourself.
Your oboe teacher is always the best person to ask. Chances are, your band director is NOT an oboist (though some are). If your band teacher is not an oboe player, don’t trust him/her to work on your reeds. Also, as well meaning as your classmates may be, inexperienced knife control can easily wreak havoc on a reed. The best policy is to only let your oboe teacher work on your reeds.
DON’T PLAY your best reed in your lesson.
Your teacher will want you to save your best reed for an upcoming performance or audition and will be happy to look at any less-than-perfect reeds in your lesson. As your biggest fan and most understanding listener, any teacher would rather listen to your second best reed and have you save the best one for the big stuff like recitals and competitions. So keep your #1 reed in the case during your lesson.
GET A FUN REED CASE.
There are lots of fun, affordable reed cases out there these days, as people are getting more creative and crafty. Ebay has lots of fun designs for cheap, while specialty oboe shops have more fancy, expensive ones. Whatever your budget, having a fun reed case makes the oboe all the more fun, and reeds all the less annoying.
IF YOUR REED IS SHARP, you can try pulling it out of the oboe a few millimeters to help get it down to pitch in a pinch. Another trick is to soak it for longer and pinch the tip open slightly.
Overall, make sure you’re not playing with too much reed in your mouth, a nasty habit we all easily fall into.
REEDS ARE SENSITIVE to the environment.
They change with the seasons and the weather, but they are also affected by where they are stored during the day. Treat your reeds like living things—if you wouldn’t leave a plant somewhere, don’t leave your reeds there. You wouldn’t leave a plant in your locker all day, and especially not overnight, so don’t leave your reeds there either. You wouldn’t leave a plant in your car all day, same with your reeds. Treat your reeds like the living, breathing animals they are and they’ll reward you with more vitality and predictability.
DON’T PULL HAIRS off your reeds.
Have you ever had a reed that had little cane “hairs” shooting off the sides of the reed? As much as they might be annoying to look at, leave them be! More times than not, pulling one will sheer off a tiny bit of cane down the length of the reed and cause a leak.
SAVE A CORK and make someone’s day (and save them a little $$).
If you don’t make reeds, your teacher and/or colleagues certainly do, and they can reuse the corks from your old oboe reeds. Next time you’re ready to toss an old reed, save the cork for an oboe friend. Maybe they’ll even give one back with a new reed tied on it one day:)
FLYING with an instrument can be a pain, but we’re lucky that oboes are small enough to carry onboard. Always take your oboe as a carry-on, and that includes your reeds!
Don’t risk your reeds to rough handling and lost baggage by checking them. You’ll have the peace of mind of having them in your possession at all times, and security won’t hassle you about them (well, not any more than they usually do).
SOAK UP 2 reeds at a time before rehearsals and concerts.
That way, you’ll always have a back-up soaked and ready to go if disaster should suddenly strike.
IF A REED IS FLAT, try soaking it for less time and pinching it closed at the tip. You can also ask your teacher to clip it a tiny bit.
SANITIZE a reed by letting it soak for 5 full minutes in hydrogen peroxide. Rinse thouroughly under running water, then allow it to dry out completely for several hours.
MANDREL-STYLE reed cases are those that hold the reeds on little posts that stick up into the bottom of the corks.
These cases are often less expensive than ribbon-style cases, but you pay the price by getting less protection for your reeds. Reeds on mandrel posts can flop around inside the reed case and easily chip and break. It’s worth the few extra dollars to get a secure, well made, ribbon-style case to better protect your reeds.
TRY THAT REED you’ve been saving before the big day.
If you have an amazing reed that you put away weeks ago to save for an important performance, try it a few days before the big day. Sometimes reeds will change even from just sitting in your reed case, so make sure you reacquaint yourself with your old friend before asking it to perform beautifully in the heat of the moment.
KEEP YOUR REEDS SAFE during breaks in rehearsals and intermissions at performances by always putting them in your reed case when you go off stage.
Leaving them on your stand or soaking in water can lead to accidental crushing or chipping, so take the time to put them away before you go have your snack.
LEARN HOW TO ADJUST your oboe.
It really is simple, and you can have someone show you or learn from a manual like Carl Sawicki’s book. Get yourself a screwdriver, some cigarette paper and you’ll have it down in about an hour. It’ll make you much more ready and confident to do it when you really have to (like after your oboe has travelled, been shipped, been dropped, etc.)
Knowing how to keep your oboe in check is worth it’s weight in gold.
IF YOU ARE LEARNING to make your own reeds and are still at the beginning stages, don’t waste your money on expensive cane.
Look online or call your oboe supply shop and ask them if they have “mystery cane,” or cane they use to center their gouging machines, for you to purchase at a significant discount. When you are just learning the basics of how to tie cane on and how to get control of your knife, you really don’t need anything too special, and this can save you a lot of money over time.
AT ALL TIMES you should have at least 3 reeds in your reed case that you could play on and be okay with.
Don’t delude yourself by keeping dead reeds hanging around for the false sense of security it provides. Cleaning out your reed case is vital to staying up to date on what reeds you have and, more often, what you don’t have but thought you did.
LEARN HOW to put your oboe together without squeezing any keys or rods.
Make sure the arms on both sides of the oboe line up as perfectly as possible. The oboe will play much better if these are aligned, although it is easier on some oboes than others.
GET A REED CASE!
Those little plastic mailing tubes might seem convenient, but reeds need a safe place to sleep and a place to dry out completely after every use. Staying in those tiny tubes makes the reed more susceptible to cracking, chipping, crushing and yum, growing mold…
We suggest the ribbon-style reed case over the kind that flip out each reed individually, but the choice is yours.
USE A FEATHER or a swab that does not pull through to clean out your oboe every time you use it.
We don’t recommend pull-through swabs because of their propensity to get knotted, and then stuck in the top joint of your oboe. If this happens and the swab is pulled too tightly, only an “operation” (a visit to a repair person) can remedy it. Only new feathers that do not shed feather hairs should be used to wipe out your oboe.
KEEP YOUR REEDMAKING tools in top shape.
Even if you only adjust reeds, make sure your plaques are not worn down and your cutting block isn’t so used that your knife gets stuck in it every time you clip a reed. Cutting blocks can be filed down with metal files, and then with sandpaper to be as smooth and as good as new.
DON’T WALK AROUND backstage with your reed in your oboe.
This is an extremely easy way to break you reed! Instead, carry your reed in your mouth, or even better, put it in a reed case while you walk around.
IF YOU’RE A STUDENT, always watch when your teacher scrapes on your reeds!
Don’t space out, or walk away and just wait for the magic results. Tune in to how he/she holds the knife, the angle at which they scrape, and how much cane comes off. Even if you don’t make your own reeds yet, you will learn a lot by just absorbing how making reeds looks. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions while you watch and be a part of the solution as your teacher tries to figure out what to do with your reed. When you play it, you will have learned how what you just saw relates to what you now feel in your reed.
IF YOU ARE LEARNING TO MAKE REEDS, try experimenting with different oboe shaper tip(s) throughout the year.
For example, if your reeds are feeling a bit closed during the cold winter months, just try tying your normal shape on a little bit shorter (say, 72 1/2 instead of your normal 73) and see what happens. It can be a fun project to experiment with stuff you already have, and keep track of it on a chart or in a journal. Be your own teacher!
BUYING TIED OBOE reed blanks is a great time saver for busy teachers and professionals.
We use the same stuff for blanks as we use to make our reeds, so you’re likely to make some good reeds out of them.
If you’re a student, however, learning to tie your own blanks is a crucial and necessary step in learning to make reeds. There are lots of variables in making blanks, and you’ll want to learn all about them so that you can ultimately have control over your reeds. Ask your teacher to help you get started!
AS YOU LEARN to make reeds, think of function first and detail later.
Going for detail too soon is an easy habit to get into, and actually becomes more of a temptation once you know what you are doing. Force yourself to go for basic, core qualities first. For example, instead of worrying about a certain sound or what pitch the reed is at right at the beginning, strive to get the reed to play easily and stay stable first. Then you can begin to worry about the finer qualities.
IF YOU TRAVEL around with reeds, keep a notebook of what works for you.
It could be a gouge/shape thing, or even a “special circumstance” tip like not letting the reed soak at all when you are in a certain climate. For example, altitude changes are going to alter your reed needs. Better to do the detective work once and reap the results year after year.
THE NEXT TIME you get water in one of your keys, try this.
A dollar bill works well to help blot out the water, maybe even better than cigarette paper will. Place the bill under the key, and create suction so that the water comes out onto the bill and helps dry it up. My first oboe teacher swore by this!
AS EARLY AS your reedmaking efforts begin, get in the habit of having several different knives.
Use one as an all purpose “desk knife” to do all the dirty work. Have another knife reserved for scraping, but general scraping. Finally, have a knife reserved just for detail. Along the same lines, some oboists only clip with razorblades in an effort to keep their knives fresh and sharp.
MAKE YOUR OWN cork grease!
Look online for a simple lip balm recipe with a few ingredients, and scent the balm with whatever oil or fragrance you like. You won’t have to worry about a menthol smelling oboe every time you use cork grease.
OBOE REEDS ARE CLIPPED so that the 2 blades of the reed are a slightly different length.
It is almost too small of a difference to see, but the blade you put on your lip should be the shorter one. The longer blade is the one facing away from you.
WHEN MAKING REEDS, try some beeswax on the thread when tying them.
Even a small amount will stick to the string, and the string will then stick to the staple better, preventing your reeds from unravelling. Too much beeswax won’t hurt the reed, but it might make the thread part too sticky to touch, as well as dulling the color of the reed thread.
GREAT REEDS DON’T always look perfect.
In fact, some of them are downright ugly! Judge your reed more on how it functions and use its looks as clues to how you could improve things.
PUT THE LIP BALM on after your practice session, and not before.
If you use it before, you’ll soon begin to see waxy buildup on your reed near the string. There may also be some on the inside of the reed, which you won’t be able to see. This will surely begin clogging the air that needs to go through the reed.
WHEN RETURNING to reedmaking after some time off, give yourself a break as your knife skills slowly return.
Like any skill, you can get a little rusty when you’re away. Plan on the first few reeds you make being practice reeds!
HAVE A BUNCH of okay reeds? Lucky you! Keep rotating them in practice and rehearsals to get the most life out of each of them.
Make a note of which reed you use each day on your calendar.
AS YOUR REEDMAKING SKILLS improve, the quality of your supplies becomes more important.
Try a variety of staples, and notice how your reeds change from one to the next.
A teacher CAN and SHOULD help you learn to make reeds. After a certain point, however, you must become YOUR OWN reed teacher. In fact, you are the only one with the knowledge to teach yourself how to make the perfect reed for YOU.
You can search all your life for the perfect reed recipe: that blend of rules that will lead to perfect reeds. Unfortunately, that recipe does not exist. At least it is not to be found on the outside in books and from others.
Over time, you will discover how to make the perfect reed for you. No one else can give you that answer. It is your goal to find it.
Enjoy the adventure… And don’t forget to have some fun along the way
HAVING TROUBLE with low notes lately?
Make sure you get your oboe adjusted and serviced at least once a year to keep everything in good working order.
LEARN TO GET 2 reeds for the price of 1!
Once a great reed is past its prime, try pulling the tip back, remaking it and clipping it (ask your teacher if you are still learning). You have nothing to lose, and will gain experience and maybe another great reed!
AS REED “HOMEWORK,” try making a reed every now and then based on looks only.
Act as if it will be the visual model of a perfect reed. Pay extra attention to keeping the corners on, and try your best to make it look great. Then play it. How does it stack up?
ALL REEDS ARE NOT created equal.
Sometimes you’ll use the same cane, shape and gouge and get completely different results. It’s the same story when you are ordering reeds. No two are exactly the same.
Remember that handmade oboe reeds are LIVING creatures, and are affected by moisture, humidity, temperature, altitude and other things we don’t yet understand.
Go with the flow, learn what you can and make the best of the situation.
IF YOU USE razor blades for your reedmaking (like in shaping cane) you can reuse them several times.
Sharpen them on your sharpening stone by dragging one towards you then away from you on the stone.
It will be good as new!
And MORE oboe reed tips from the oboe community!
Wrap reeds with ribbon style dental floss instead of thread and beeswax. It works better and it’s cheaper.
MKL Reeds Note: We found this one hard to believe (of course we’ve never tried it.) But the oboist who submitted this tip has been using this method for over 35 years. Note that it is the “ribbon” style of dental floss, not the regular kind.
Parafilm: It is this great stretchy plastic stuff that I use in my other life as a mad scientist. Just as see through as fish skin and way stronger than plumbers tape. I don’t have to look for it on ebay, but I am sure it can be found. I gave some to my teacher and we are good.
The ends of the piece of cane that get tied onto the tube: Do NOT “profile” them, ie, thin them down so that you have a pretty tie. My teacher showed me this, and seriously, I have had far fewer problems with leaks and incorrect slippage.