Oboe Reed Doctor

Playing reed doctor can be dangerous because whenever you try to correct a reed, 1-3 more problems are likely to come up.  It is very rare that you can make an adjustment to a reed without throwing something else off.  Reed making is always a balance and a compromise between improving one aspect often at the detriment of another. For example, to make the reed vibrate more you will likely have to remove cane—which will make the reed go flat. You then clip the reed to raise the pitch, but in doing so the reed will not vibrate as easily.

This page will give you some thoughts on how to do the best you can, but after you have scraped enough cane to have something that resembles a reed, try to make sure that at the very least the reed is not flat and many of these problems will not come up. After your initial scraping, try to let a reed sit for a day or two, and try not to let a reed sit overnight if it is flat.

Before trying to fix a reed, always make sure that the oboe is in proper adjustment and is thoroughly warmed up.  If the oboe is not in adjustment, the notes (low notes in particular) will have difficulty speaking and can be out of tune and feel "tight."  If the oboe is not warmed up, then the low register will sound sluggish and a little unresponsive and will also be out of tune.

Instrument vs. oboe reed problems:

I rarely have a student come to a first lesson with a completely functional oboe because the instruments themselves can fall out of adjustment very easily.  Many of our supposed reed woes are because of a faulty instrument and not the reed. Also, make sure your reeds have at least been dipped in warm ("soup hot") water and left to sit for about a minute.  In cold and dry climates you might need to soak reeds for 1-3 minutes in hot water while in hot and humid climates a brief dip will be enough. Don't try to fix a reed that has been soaking any longer than that a few minutes and don't continue to fix a reed after about 20-30 minutes or else you will be trying to fix an over soaked reed. Lastly, I want to remind you that some cane will be irredeemable, but this page will help you get your nearly finished reeds better.

The basic types of oboe reed problems

We can divide most reed issues into one of four main categories in terms of their pitch and size of opening:

  1. Flat and too open
  2. Flat and too closed
  3. Sharp and too open
  4. Sharp and too closed

1 and 4 are most common with reeds and also present the most problems in fixing. The reason why is because if you have a reed that is flat and too open, you will want to clip it, which will usually just make it even more open. If a reed is sharp and too closed then you will want to scrape more out of the heart and back which can close the reed down even more.

If a reed is flat and closed, then clipping the reed will likely solve your problem. If a reed is sharp and too open, then scraping more out of the back and the sides of the heart will likely solve your problem.

We can also divide reed issues into these categories:

  1. Flat and unresponsive
  2. Flat and too responsive
  3. Sharp and unresponsive
  4. Sharp and too responsive

1 and 4 are difficult positions to be in because if a reed is unresponsive then you will want to scrape more cane out which will likely make it flatter. And if a reed is too sharp then you will want to scrape more cane out which will make it even more responsive.

You want to put yourself in positions 2 and 3 in each category:

Flat and too responsive reeds will usually require a clip to raise the pitch which will also make the reed less responsive. If a reed is sharp and unresponsive then it just needs to be scraped more which both lowers the pitch and makes it more responsive. Those are great positions that you want to be in because of how easy and straight forward those problems are to fix.

In the next blog posts I will explain and show how to help a reed that has the difficult issues showed in numbers 1 and 4 in both examples.

Oboe reed that is flat 

Oboe reed that is sharp

Reed doctor diagram for oboe lessons

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