Easy Oboe Reed Adjustments

Reed Making Tips

I divided this post up into two main parts: creating a bigger opening at the tip and then creating a smaller opening. A reed with a large opening will tend to play lower in pitch than a reed with a small opening.  For me, a reed with a stronger opening will be easier to play in the low register, whereas a reed with a smaller opening will play better in the upper register in terms of response, intonation, and control. Be careful with these adjustments because it is unlikely that you will be able to change the response of a reed without compromising the pitch, and vice versa. If your reed is flat and too hard/unresponsive, then trying to raise the pitch of the reed will only make the response even worse. There is a video demonstration below.

To open up a reed and improve low register response

  1. Soak the reed it hot water for at least 30 seconds. You can try putting your reed water in the microwave in a microwave safe container for about 20 seconds to heat up your reed water. Water should be approximately the same temperature as hot soup.
  2. Gently press the corners of the reed inward. Make sure the reed is soaked in water otherwise the cane could split.
  3. There should be a small overlap with the blades of the reed where the top blade sits a little to the right. Shift the overlap so the blades of the reed sit more on top of each other. The overlap should always position the top blade at least a little to the right of the bottom blade, never to the left.

To close down a reed and raise the pitch

  1. If you soaked the reed in hot water, it might need to be left to dry out for a few minutes.
  2. Try putting a plaque in and squeeze the opening shut with your fingers. Make sure the reed is soaked otherwise it can split. If you do not have a plaque, you can try shutting the opening without one.
  3. Increase the overlap so the top blade sits more to the right. If you make too much of an overlap, the reed might leak air, in which case you will have to reposition the two blades of cane back to where they were.
  4. The reed might be too new and might need to be "broken in." Break in the reed if it is new and if the tone and intonation feel out of control. To break in a reed, all you need to do is play on it for an hour or more. Try practicing music with a lot of fast, articulated notes to break your reeds in quicker.

And... Adjustments you can make with cheaper tools

  1. If you need to raise the pitch of you reed, you can try purchasing a cutting block and razor blades. The cutting block should be purchased from a double reed retailer, such as mmimports.com, but the razor blades can be purchased either at a retailer, or at any hardware store. If you take a small clip off the top of the reed, make sure it is as small of a clip as possible. Remember, once you clip off part of the tip, you can't add it back on! And, if you are new to using a knife or razor blade, please be careful and always clip the reed on a sturdy surface.
  2. If you want to make the opening bigger, you can try making more definition between the tip, heart, and windows. If your reed is too open, then you can try blending the three areas more. Keep in mind that in general, removing cane will lower the pitch of the reed. Also, if you are scraping cane from the tip, your knife needs to be sharp!

The video below will demonstrate these topics, and also show a few quick adjustments that newer reed makers can make to their reeds using a razor blade, cutting block, knife, and plaque. More advanced adjustments (with videos and more detail) can be seen with membership!

If you are interested in downloading a reed making PDF with oboe reed making instructions and measurements, check out the oboe reed measurement post.

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