Evaluating reeds

Photo, chelseagirl

There are three things to consider when evaluating a reed. I consider these same factors for either single or double reeds, and prioritize them in this order.

  1. Response. The overriding concern for me is that the reed responds exactly as I expect it to. A reed that is stiff, sluggish, stuffy, or otherwise unresponsive isn’t a good reed (at least in its current state), even if it “has a good sound” or whatever. Many reed players, I believe, are consistently using reeds that are overly stiff, often in the name of “good” tone.
  2. Stability. This is the flip side of the coin from response; a reed that is too responsive is uncontrollable. (Think of the gas pedal and brake in a car: unresponsive pedals make the car feel lethargic, but overly responsive ones make for a jerky ride.) With an unstable reed, it’s hard to play in tune, hard to control dynamics, and hard to keep the tone consistent.
  3. Tone. Once I’ve selected a reed that has the right balance between response and stability, I evaluate the reed’s contribution to tone quality. Remember that the reed is only one of many factors that affect tone, and that tone is relatively easy to manipulate if the reed is responsive and stable. Resist the temptation to rank your reeds based on their tone alone.

University of Northern Iowa offers new multiple woodwinds degree

The University of Northern Iowa is now offering a Master of Music degree with a multiple woodwinds (3-instrument) emphasis. A few points of interest, according to degree information from their website:

  • Students take 6 credit hours of study on a “primary” instrument, and 4 hours on a “secondary” instrument, and must “demonstrate proficiency” on a third. Presumably the third instrument must either be at a suitable proficiency level upon entering the program, or the student must study the instrument without the additional credit hours counting toward degree completion.
  • Students using oboe or bassoon as one of their three instruments must take an appropriate reedmaking course. This, I guess, means that students choosing both oboe and bassoon must take both reedmaking courses. And the reedmaking course must be completed even for the “demonstrate proficiency” instrument, which might not be part of the student’s coursework.
  • Students choosing flute or clarinet as primary or secondary instruments must take an instrument-specific pedagogy course, or presumably both if flute and clarinet are the primary and secondary (or vice versa).
  • There does not appear to be any special requirement (such as pedagogy or reedmaking) if saxophone is chosen as one of the three instruments.
  • The degree recital must include performances on at least two “of the five” woodwinds. Oddly, it is not specified that these must be the primary and secondary instruments.
  • Audition information from elsewhere on the UNI Music website does not make clear what is required for admission to the program.

See my hopefully-comprehensive list for more North American university/conservatory degree programs in multiple woodwind performance. (And please contact me if you see anything that needs to be added, removed, or updated!)

Balancing voicing and breath support

My oboe students frequently have this problem:

These notes don’t respond well These notes are sharp and thin-sounding

(Okay, sometimes I also have this problem.)

The solution, in most cases, is quite simple.

Step 1: Use the correct voicing. For oboe it should be low and open, like blowing very warm air. This is usually the result:

These notes respond beautifully These notes are flat and tubby-sounding

Step 2: Use powerful abdominal breath support. Voilà:

These notes respond beautifully These notes are in tune and full-sounding

I find that once voicing and breath support are balanced against each other, a good oboe with a good reed is one of the easiest woodwinds to play in tune, and responds easily in all registers.

This is, generally speaking, true of all of the woodwinds: solid breath support plus a stable voicing appropriate to the instrument are the recipe for reliable, in-tune notes from low to high.

Internet forum field guide: gear recommendations

Enter with caution.

If you frequent any of the various woodwind-related Internet message boards, forums, or listservs, you have undoubtedly encountered some of the wildlife I will describe here. Remember that they can be dangerous creatures, and that it is often best not to attempt interaction with them.

One of the most common animal behaviors witnessed on the message boards is the exchange of gear recommendations. There are two primary families of wildlife the participate in this ritual: the askers and the answerers.

The askers

The askers all share a common behavioral trait: a proclivity for asking total strangers to blindly recommend instruments, mouthpieces, reeds, and other items. Their calls are varied.

Some prefer to remain hidden in the underbrush, offering no clarifying details:

hey guys first time on this board what reedz should I use lolz Continue reading “Internet forum field guide: gear recommendations”