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Tips for Mindful Reedmaking

Updated: Jul 17, 2021

Oboe reeds

Just as this time of social isolation presents the perfect opportunity to refine your practice routine, it also provides the opportunity to refine your reedmaking. Although canceled performances take away much needed income, they provide extra time to address bad reedmaking habits and reinforce existing positive ones. Here are some things I've been focusing on in my reedmaking. This post is part one of two. This first part will focus on getting back to basic fundamental reedmaking skills..

1. SHARPEN YOUR KNIVES- Cross-stitch this on a pillow (you've got the extra time). Seriously, I've had to relearn this lesson far too many times. One of the main causes of bad reeds is a dull knife which force you to use too much pressure while scraping the reed which compresses the cane fibers, dulls vibrations, and increases your margin of error. This is also the perfect time to regrind your knives while binge watching "Tiger King."

2. CHECK YOUR MEASUREMENTS- If you have fallen out of the habit of measuring your reeds, this is a good time to revisit it- especially if you're in a bit of a "reed slump." I base my measurements on the recommendations of my teachers and the finished measurements of my best reeds. When I have a particularly good reed I'll make a note of it's measurements to serve as a reference. I've found my best reeds tend to have the base of the tip around 66 millimeters and the base of the heart around 58-60 millimeters but see what works best for you. Reedmaking is very subjective and measurements can vary based on a number of factors including climate, personal preference, specific needs of a performance, etc. If I find myself in a bit of a reed slump, the first thing I'll do is take extra time to sharpen my knife and check the measurements of my reeds. You'd be surprised at the bizarrely proportioned reeds produced by desperate reedmaking.

Oboe reed

3. DO NOT WORK ON A REED FOR MORE THAN 30 MIN AT A TIME: I have been making a concerted effort to resist that urge to do "just one more thing" as your working on your reed. We all know it's never "just one more thing," just like it's never just one more potato chip. With the cancelation of live concerts, chances are you have significantly less pressure to have a great reed RIGHT NOW. Take the time to SLOW DOWN the process and avoid over-scraping. Remember, you can always take cane off the reed but you can't put it back on. Set a timer for 30 minutes and discipline yourself to adhere to this rule and I bet your reeds will improve.

4. 15 MINUTE REED DRILLS- Learning how to make reeds fast is an essential skill. Sometimes you open your reed case and no reeds work and you have a concert to play in an hour. Shit happens. Reeds are fickle. You need to be able to make a reed quickly if the situation calls for it. I guarantee you will encounter a situation like this at some point in your playing career and you need to be prepared for it. Grab a reed blank and set your timer for 15 minutes. Start scraping and when the 15 minutes have elapsed, play a Barret melody on the reed you just made. The goal is to scrape the reed to the point where you could play a concert on it if you HAD to at the end of the 15 minutes.

5. SCRAPE THEN PLAY- I use this drill in the "finishing" stage of reedmaking. I define "finishing" as any scraping beyond the point where the reed comfortably crows a "C" and the lower octave appears upon increased air speed. After every adjustment, play the reed on the oboe to notice the cause and effect relationship between where you scraped the reed and how the reed responded. For example, you scrape the corners of the tip, then try the reed on the oboe. Even if you are pretty sure you will need to dust the heart afterwards, TRY the reed on the oboe. Ask yourself, did scraping the corners of the tip have the effect I thought it would? Where do I scrape next? Or should I leave the reed alone for the time being?

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