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Tips for Mindful Reedmaking Part 2

Updated: Jul 17, 2021

Dr. Clara Blood with oboe reeds and reed case

This week's post is a continuation of last week's mindful reedmaking tips. Robert Atherholt, my undergraduate teacher at Rice University told me that reedmaking is 90 percent science and 10 percent art. The final ten percent is the seemingly endless process of finishing the reed to suit a particular performance situation, sound concept, or personal preference. It is very easy to get so caught up in the subjective nuances of the art of reedmaking that we ignore the other ninety percent- the science of reedmaking. Before diving into the art of reedmaking, a reed must have good response and good intonation. In other words, the reed must be able to function without excessive effort or manipulation. Today's drill "Scrape by the Crow" focuses on the science of reedmaking and developing an objective and logical approach to scraping the reed.

The purpose of "Scrape by the Crow" is to achieve a "C" crow where the lower octave appears upon increased air pressure. The primary sounding "C" should be the third space "C" in treble clef, and the lower octave should be the "C" an octave below, i.e. one ledger line below the staff in treble clef. Start with a reed blank and scrape it until the reed crows a "C" and the lower octave appears upon increased air pressure. DO NOT try the reed on the oboe for the duration of the exercise, but DO crow the reed after every scraping adjustment once the reed has started to make a sound. Like last week's "Scrape then Play" drill, the purpose of this drill is to see the cause and effect relationship between where you scraped the reed and and how it changed the crow.

"Scraping by the Crow" teaches you to scrape the reed mindfully and focus on the science of reedmaking. There is a direct correlation between the quality of the crow and the functionality of the reed. The crow provides a sonic blueprint of the reed. The crow tells you how well the reed responds, how well it plays in tune, and what overtones it emphasizes. A noisy crow with a lot of "rattle" will have a lot of lower overtones but will lack stability and focus. Conversely, a shrill and resistant crow indicates rigid stability but sharp pitch, lack of response, and emphasizes too many high overtones.

In my experience, the "C" crow where the lower octave appears upon increased air pressure produces the most responsive, in tune, and balanced sounding reed. You may find that your oboe, lip size, embouchure pressure, airspeed, etc. requires a slightly different type of crow (some people prefer a "C#" crow for example) but this is a good place to start. Be sure to crow the reed OBJECTIVELY and avoid the temptation to try to make the reed crow the way you want it to. This takes discipline and mindfulness. Put the reed in your mouth at the base of the thread. With a loose and relaxed embouchure, begin to crow the reed with slow air speed then increase it until you reach a healthy mezzo-forte volume. Remember, you are testing how the ACTUALLY reed functions, not how you WANT it to function!

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