- Steve Neff Music Blog: The Best Saxophone Embouchure: Where’s that Bottom Lip?
- Jazz-Sax.Com: Pedalboard 4.0
- ProneOboe (Jennet Ingle): When to Cheat
- Jenny Maclay (clarinet): Should you take a practice break? and 21 Clarinet Compositions from the 21st Century
For many household items, screws should be tightened if they seem loose. But for woodwind instruments it’s a little more complicated.
Woodwind instruments (flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and saxophones) have many screws on them. They are usually the slotted type, for which you would use a standard (“flat-head”) screwdriver. And some of them need to be tightened when they become loose, but some should be left alone—and it’s not always easy to tell which is which. If you aren’t sure, take it to your teacher or a professional instrument repair shop.
When tightening screws, always use a screwdriver that fits the screw very closely, to reduce the chances of damaging the screw. Mismatched screwdrivers can also slip, causing injury to you or scratches on the instrument’s finish.
Here are some kinds of screws you might find on your instrument:
Some screws simply hold some non-moving pieces together. For example, these screws on a saxophone hold this key guard onto the instrument. It’s not a moving part; the screws are just there so a professional can remove the key guard to do specialized work on the key. If these screws are loose, you can carefully tighten them just until they are snug.
The same is true of these screws that hold the oboe’s thumb rest in place—they are part of a non-moving assembly. If they won’t stay in place, the wood may be damaged (the hole is “stripped”). A good repair shop can fix it for you.
Woodwind instruments have many pivot screws, and also pivot rods that have slotted ends like screws. These allow some of the instrument’s keys to pivot (rotate) a little when you press and release them.
Here is one of the pivot screws on a flute. The threaded part screws into a post that is attached to the instrument, and the pointy tip of the screw fits into a void in the end of the key, holding it in place but allowing it to pivot smoothly. For a well-made and well-maintained instrument, usually you can screw these in all the way until they are snug and the head of the screw fits into the post without protruding. But if that makes the key stick or misbehave, it may be necessary to loosen it just slightly.
Here is a flute pivot rod. When it is screwed in it looks the same as a pivot screw, but when it is removed you can see that it’s long enough to pass all the way through a post and the keys’ hinge tube, and then screw into another post. Like a pivot screw, a pivot rod can usually be screwed in until snug, unless that seems to cause a problem.
Most of the woodwinds also have at least a few adjustment screws. These allow a professional to fine-tune how some of the keys move. They need to be tightened a certain amount, no tighter and no looser, like turning the knob on an oven to get the right temperature. If it’s too loose or too tight, it will make the instrument difficult or impossible to play. Making these adjustments properly requires specialized skills.
Here are some of the many adjustment screws on an oboe:
And here is one of the few on a clarinet:
If you tighten these adjustment screws and don’t know what you are doing, you will probably need to take the instrument to your teacher or a repair shop to undo the damage. This can be time-consuming and expensive.
If you have screws that keep loosening on their own, this may be because they are dirty, damaged, or need lubrication. A good repair shop can clean and repair the screws or rods without damaging them (or replace them if necessary), and can determine and apply the appropriate lubricant. (Most household oils aren’t right for the job.) If the screws continue to loosen after this treatment, take the instrument to the shop again and they may use additional methods to secure the screws in place.
- oboeinsight (Patty Mitchell): Empty Stage & Pit
- bassoon blog (Betsy Sturdevant): Rhythmic fingering on bassoon—a K. David Van Hoesen concept, and Beeswax for Bassoon Reeds
- Bill Plake Music (saxophone): Clarifying A Common Misconception About “Tension” In Playing Music
- Hodge Products, Inc. Double Reed Supplies Blog: COVID-19 Reed Sanitizing
- Jenny Maclay (clarinet): Clarinet Method Books to Help Develop Diverse Musical Genres and Styles
- JazzBariSax.com (Andrew Hadro): Essential and Deeper Listening Lists
- Blog :: –– Jason Alder :: (Bass) Clarinetist: The Big List of Contrabass Clarinet Albums (with
- Practice Monster (David Pope, saxophone): Circular Breathing
- Sax ProShop: #WednesdayWisdom: Sanitizing Your Mouthpiece & Instrument
- Trent Jacobs, bassoonist: Bassoon fingering chart and On communicable diseases and buying reeds
- heather roche: “Ultra-Underblow Mutiphonics”: Part 2 of the recategorisation of Philip Rehfeldt’s chart
- Rachel Taylor Geier (flute): Imperfect Balance – Hand Position Correctors
- The Bassic Sax Blog » (Helen Kahlke): Is a vintage sax right for me?
- The Vintage Clarinet Doctor – Blog (Jeremy Soule): mouthpiece porn vs Mouthpiece Monogamy
- The Flute View (Lauren Monteiro): 4 Rules for Recording Your Practice
- International Clarinet Association (Wesley Ferreira): Master Class: Fantasiestücke (Fantasy Pieces), Op. 43 by Niels Gade
- Jenny Maclay (clarinet): 31 Clarinet Compositions Written by Female Composers
- Music Major – Majoring in Music: Music School Decisions When You Can’t Visit
- The Flute Examiner (Kelly Wilson): Why We Should Love Our Ribs
- Blog :: –– Jason Alder :: (Bass) Clarinetist: A Guide to Understanding Bass Clarinet Clef Notation
- JQ Flute (Jessica Quiñones): 5 things I no longer believe about flute playing.
- Sax ProShop: #WednesdayWisdom: Making Saxophone Low Notes that whisper and wail! It’s all in the set-up.
- Bill Plake Music: The Value Of Having (But Not Always Following) A Daily Practice Plan
- International Clarinet Association: How to rock your college music auditions
- ProneOboe (Jennet Ingle): Reed Mindset
- Nicole Riner, flutist: You Will Survive Your College Auditions
- Rachel Yoder, clarinet: Clarinet Playing During the Postpartum Period: My Story
- bassoon blog (Betsy Sturdevant): The devil’s in the details (Columbus Symphony Russian Winter Festival II)
- Joffe Woodwinds: How to Approach a Lesson
- Clarinet Divas (Diana Haskell): Short List of Favorite Works for Clarinet by Female Composers
- Peter da Silva Music: At the Repair Shop: A Playtest Checklist for the Saxophone
- The Flute View (Caitlin Rose): Tools to Help Combat Burnout
- Bill Plake Music: When Practicing Is More Than Just “Practicing”
- ProneOboe (Jennet Ingle): Shaq and the Oboe
- bassoon blog (Betsy Sturdevant): The art of bassoon maintenance
- Just Flutes Blog (Adam Clifford): CITES Regulations of Wooden Instruments – Update
- Steve Neff Music Blog: Buyer Beware! Counterfeit Vintage Saxophone Mouthpieces Galore
- oboeinsight (Patty Mitchell): A Very Good Reminder
How do you pick the clarinet or saxophone reed that is the right strength “for you?” You mostly don’t, really.
It’s important that the reed be a good match to the mouthpiece. In most cases the primary consideration is the mouthpiece’s facing curve and resultant tip opening. Generally, a shorter curve and/or wider opening require a softer reed, that can flex enough to meet the mouthpiece while vibrating. A longer curve and/or narrower opening need a stiffer reed, which will have enough guts to spring back after flexing to the mouthpiece.
This means that the “right” strength for a player using a particular mouthpiece will be pretty close to the “right” reed for anyone else using that mouthpiece.
Some players and teachers object to this, insisting that the “strength” of the embouchure needs to be accounted for. But the embouchure shouldn’t employ much “strength”—it should close just airtight (but not tight) around the mouthpiece and reed. If you are using your embouchure to muscle the reed around, then you might think you need a stiffer reed, but what you really need is a more open, relaxed embouchure. (If you feel like you will lose control by relaxing your embouchure, make up for it with powerful breath support.)
So, assuming a reed reasonably well-matched to the mouthpiece, and a correctly-formed embouchure, the only thing left to consider is personal preference for how much resistance is in the setup. A slightly more resistant setup is good for things like soft, gentle articulations and stable pitch and tone. A slightly less resistant setup favors crisp, immediate articulations and some pitch and tone flexibility. I find this acceptable range of reed stiffnesses to be small enough that I can usually find some softer and some stiffer specimens within a box of reeds that are nominally the same strength.
Some mouthpiece and reed makers publish information about which reeds match to which mouthpieces. If you find yourself straying far from these recommendations, take a closer look at your embouchure and your stability/flexibility priorities.
- How To Make Oboe Reeds (Courtney Miller): The Joy of Scraping
- Just Flutes Blog (Roderick Seed): Tonguing tips
- International Clarinet Association: James Gillespie Library Weekly Roundup – Diverse Repertoire, Part I
- Peter Spitzer Music Blog (clarinet/saxophone): A Tufts University Study of Cryogenic Treatment of Brass Instruments
- International Clarinet Association (Heather Mogielnicki): The Clarinet [Online]: Healthy Habits for Musicians
- The Flute Examiner (Jessica Dunnavant): “The Holly and the Ivy” for Flute and Piano