Frequently Asked Questions and Important Information About Reeds
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How long does a reed last? How many do I need?
Every reed is different, but with adjustments, most oboe reeds will last about 10-15 hours of playing time for students. In general my beginning oboe students use about 1 per month in their first year. English horn reeds are thicker and therefore can last up to several weeks. Bassoon reeds, being even thicker, can last up to 2-3 months for students.
It is recommended to always have a couple of reeds on hand so you have a variety to choose from. Reeds they change daily depending on use and the weather, and can become accidentally damaged.
If a new reed becomes stiff, heavy, and sharp, some light adjustments will be necessary. As a reed gets older it will start to become unstable and flat and should be replaced to avoid any strain on the player.
How long do I soak my reed?
It is recommended to soak your oboe reed in a small plastic reed cup filled with water for 1-2 minutes (instead of your mouth). This will prolong the life of the reed because bacteria in your mouth can break down the reed faster.
Do not to over soak reeds. Soaking for too long will cause the cane fibers to swell which will inhibit vibrations and cause strain to the player. Over soaking fibers will also shorten the life of the reed.
Thicker reeds, like English horn reeds, may need to soak longer then oboe reeds. Soaking a reed in water for extra time will open up the tip and help it to seal, however it is not recommended to leave your reeds soaking for pro-longed periods. Reeds that leak or are too closed should be examined by a teacher.
Bassoon reeds should be emerged entirely in water for about 3-5 minutes.
Why do I need a reed case?
Always keep your reeds in a proper reed case. Single plastic containers do not offer proper ventilation and therefore should not be used to store reeds long term. Also, the tip of a reed is very thin and will be less likely to become damaged when it’s stored safely.
Brand new reeds that are a little stiff and need to be broken in. They can be played on for 5-15 intervals at a time and should be left to dry outside of the case.
What is a handmade reed and why is it different from the reeds at the local store?
A handmade reed means a reed maker, usually a professional double reed player, has made the reed from scratch to ensure a proper balance of elements. When a reed maker makes a handmade reed they have complete control over the quality of the reed, and they can scrape it down over a couple of drying sessions to ensure the finished product is stable. These reeds are also “play tested”, meaning the reed maker will play on the reed and make final adjustments based on how it plays.
Store purchased reeds (or machine-made reeds) are picked from any available cane source and scraped using a machine that simply profiles off a specified amount. Often the tip will be too heavy. leaving the heart and back without a spine or rails to provide support. These reeds may be made on poor quality cane and often require unnecessary effort to play on, especially at higher altitudes. This can be very detrimental when trying to build a strong foundation and quite frustrating for the player.
In a private lesson your teacher can adjust and scrape a store bought reed to improve upon the issues for beginner students, but even on a quality piece of cane there is usually is too much cane taken out of the “wrong places” and the qualities desired by advanced students may not be present.
What does “hand finished” mean?
A hand finished oboe reed means the reed maker picked the cane, tied it themselves, and used a profile machine to take the first layer of cane off. They will hand scrape the final adjustments for quality. This method saves a little time in the reed making process for student reeds. These reeds are great for beginner or intermediate players, however advanced students and professionals may want a reed that can be customized a bit more.
How are reeds different at high altitude?
As you go higher in elevation there are two factors to consider, the elevation and humidity level. Both high altitude and dry climates will cause the reed to vibrate less. A reed that vibrates less will be stiff, sharp, bright sounding, heavy, and lack flexibility.
In order to compensate for this, the reeds will require more cane scrapped off. Often the blend area will need to be smoother, allowing for more vibrations. Reeds made at low altitude can be adjusted for higher elevations, but when the extra cane is removed the reeds may become unstable, close down, and leak. Read my article on high altitude reeds to learn more about high altitude reed making.
My reeds look slightly pink, why?
I use a woodwind sanitizing solution called Sterisol on all reeds during lessons. The solution has a slight pink tint to it and is safe for the reed and the player.
My reed has a crack at the base near the thread, is it broken?
No! Very strong pieces of cane occasionally crack slightly during the tying process. As long as the reed is not cracked in the back, heart, or tip, a crack at the base indicates a hard piece of cane that will often offer desirable qualities.
How long does it take to learn to make oboe reeds and when should I start?
Reed making and reed adjusting takes a bit of dedication and time. It requires a controlled knife stroke, consistent knife sharpening, and a bit of trial and error to understand what is needed for each individual reed. With a couple hours of reed making each week, and an instructor’s guidance, students can start to see consistency in as little as 3-6 months. Often students will hone their reed making skills in college and become efficient in graduate school.
I recommend students start making reeds in high school, especially if they are considering playing in college. I do not usually recommend reed making in middle school due the necessary focus and cost of tools.
If your budget allows for a full reed making kit I recommend starting to learn reed adjustments and reed making at the same time. This way the student can practice scraping on new reeds, instead of their expensive purchased reeds.