For Beginners

**Be VERY CAREFUL of the tip of the reed: it will break easily if mishandled or hit against the teeth**

Cute reed person playing a toothpick oboe

How should I store my reeds?

When you receive your reeds in the mail, remove them from their temporary holders and store them in a dedicated multi-reed case. These are sold by any major double reed supplier and some music stores. The ribbon-style cases are superior to the peg-style ones as the pegs do not always hold the reeds securely, which can lead to damage.

Keeping your reeds in a reed case (as opposed to the disposable holders they arrive in) will reduce the chance of mold growth and lengthen the life of the reeds significantly by allowing the reeds to dry between uses. It will also increase the likelihood the reeds will survive should the case be dropped.

How do I prepare a reed to play?

Before playing a reed, soak it in water (not in your mouth!) for one minute. In very dry weather an additional 1-2 minutes may be necessary. Avoid soaking too long: this will make the reed feel hard and possibly cause it to play flat until it has dried out.

Cute reed people sitting on a coffee mugMy reed doesn’t slide easily into the reed well of my oboe- help!

If this happens, DO NOT force it. It may become stuck and be difficult to remove. To compact it, try rolling the cork against a flat surface (such as a table) with the cane (wood) part hanging off the edge. Be very careful not to damage the tip of the reed in the process! Or, apply a very light film of cork grease to the cork.

How long does a reed last?

Short answer: Not all year, or even all semester!

Longer answer: Even if the reed doesn’t suffer accidental breakage, the cane fibers which allow a reed to vibrate break down from enzymes in saliva and from repeated wetting and drying. The reed will become weaker and sharper until it simply doesn’t function at all. This process takes a different amount of time depending on how much it is played, whether it is rotated with other reeds, weather conditions, the tolerance of the player for “dead” reeds, and even differences in saliva! However, if you are playing every day, you will most likely need to buy at least 2-3 reeds per month. Consult your teacher if in doubt!

I have several reeds and they all play differently- why?

No matter how experienced the reed maker, oboe reeds are handmade from natural materials and each one is unique! While it can be difficult to adjust to different reeds, and you will probably find you dislike some altogether, it also means you can choose different reeds for different circumstances! For example, you might use a harder, louder reed in a large ensemble, a softer, quieter reed when playing duets… and save your favorite reed for a concert!

Why are oboe reeds so expensive?

For three main reasons: materials, time, and expertise.

Materials: Oboe reeds cannot be made of ordinary wood or bamboo: the “wood” part of the reed is actually a woody grass, popularly called cane, with the botanical name of Arundo Donax. It must be grown in particular conditions and then aged before it is useable. This means the raw materials for a reed cost more than you might suppose.

Time: Most oboe reeds are handmade. It is a long process with many steps, and while some can be streamlined with better tools or more experience, it still takes substantial labor to make an oboe reed.

Expertise: Oboe reed making is skilled labor. One of my former teachers Martin Schuring told me that on average, a reed maker-in-training must make 1,000 (mostly bad) reeds before they start consistently making good ones. That’s about 3 reeds a day for about three YEARS. And that is just to achieve competency, not to amass enough expertise to make them for sale. Also, a reed maker must be a competent oboist in order to test their reeds. Most reed makers (including me) have been to university or conservatory for oboe in order to study with excellent teachers.

** Don’t forget: Be VERY CAREFUL of the tip of the reed: it will break easily if mishandled or hit against the teeth**

Cute reed people sitting in flowers