Every oboist wants to make better reeds. It’s in our blood. I’ll never forget the first time I played the oboe. I played a Bb and the sound was so lovely. The reed had this awesome resistance that created a life-long drug-like addiction of trying to get that perfect reed again. First, of course, it was just hoping my teacher would make a reed that would give me that high again. Then I had to make them myself. Every once in awhile, I would make another awesome reed that fed the soul, but there was always this nagging thought in the back of my mind that this reed won’t last forever. 😔
Making reeds is a bit like gambling. You win just enough to keep you going. Cést la vie.
The key is to make consistently good reeds. So here are a few things you can do to make that happen.
1. Improve you knife sharpening skills.
If you want to make better reeds, I can’t overstate how important it is to have a really sharp knife.Many problems with your reeds will come down to how sharp your knife is. Learning to sharpen your knife correctly is a separate skill from making reeds, and it takes time and patience to really master the art. I’m sorry to say there are no shortcuts. I’ve looked for them, trust me! A few swipes on the crock sticks every now and then will not really do it. You need to invest time into getting them where they need to be.
Learning to sharpen your knife correctly is a separate skill from making reeds, and it takes time and patience to really master the art.
How sharp is sharp enough? Reed knives are unique. We not only need them to be sharp but the edge needs to be smooth. Also, they need to be sharpened so that they scrape rather than slice. If the knife edge is too rough you will risk losing a tip.
2. Improve your scraping technique.
Improving your scraping technique stems from how sharp your knife is. If you have a dull knife you are likely to press down onto the cane too much. Too much pressure on the cane can stifle vibrations in the reed, create lot of nicks in the reed (which also kill vibrations), and also rip the corners in your tip. Your scraping needs to be smooth and almost effortless. Have you ever gotten those beautiful curls of cane as you scrape? That’s what you want to go for.
A fun trick to practice your scraping is to get a tube of cane that you are not likely to use and practice scraping the bark off. Think if using long smooth strokes, even in the tip!
3. Get really detail-oriented.
When I was in the military I heard the phrase ‘attention to detail’ a lot. I really loathed that phrase and I still do! I think I hated it so much because all my ‘attention-to-detail’ energy was on my reeds not on how my underwear was folded.
Seriously, why does anyone fold their underwear? And why does anyone care????
Reeds are different. Anyone who plays the oboe knows that. Performances and juries have been ruined by them and auditions have been lost. We only have 23 millimeters of room to work with lengthwise, and the cane is less than a millimeter thick (.60mm to start). A finished tip is only about .05mm thick! One slip of the knife can destroy your reed. I’ve always hated the feeling of putting in hours of reed making work and walking away with nothing.
My point is, details matter. So take the time to scrutinize every detail on your reed. Many oboe pedagogues believe you need to make reeds fast, and I think that can be true, but when you’re just starting out take your time. If you get restless take a break!
Tha-th-tha-th-tha-th-that’s all, folks!