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Oboe Reeds: Is Yours Too Heavy?

By Maryn Leister

One of the most common mistakes made by young oboists (and maybe old oboists too) is playing on oboe reeds that are just too heavy for that particular player.

I've been there, and I have certainly done that. And I saw many of my colleagues struggle with the same issue, especially when we were in school. It's really easy to do when all you listen to is other oboists, day in and day out.

Somehow, you get in this mindset that the way to get that rich, luscious sound you covet is to play on oboe reeds that are too heavy for you! I don't know the exact psychology behind that but it is something about thinking you need to go in the opposite direction of a really light-sounding oboe reed.

By steering clear of a light-sounding reed, you also give up light FEELING reeds and you end up with a 2 X 4, as my teacher would say. The worst part is that you think you sound great on it, because it is so "dark," but the reality is that you most likely sound like you are working REALLY hard. Plus, no one can hear what you are trying to do musically.

If this sounds like you, read on!

You'll never get that rich oboe sound that "so and so has" unless you are truly comfortable and at ease on your oboe reed. It's just the way it works.

In fact, the reed might even feel "light" to you, but because you are so suited to it, you will have a range of colors not available to you before. Other oboists will be coveting YOUR amazing tone.

I still remember one amazing oboe reed I had a while back. I even remember that it was neon yellow and blue, and just amazing.

Without a thought, I was able to play the first movement of Bach's solo flute partita, which, if you know it well, is just an entire page of non-stop articulated sixteenth notes.

I played it for a bunch of people and I was very surprised at their reaction. It's a really hard piece in a lot of ways, and it was by no means perfect. But the reaction I got from other oboists (!!) was that it was seamlessly articulated, with a beautiful full tone in every register.

I was really stunned because I remember thinking my reed felt a little light... it HAD to be for me to be able to articulate every note.

So, the music REQUIRED me to have a reed I could really play, and the effect was more than I even intended or was aware of. That experience taught me this lesson:

Have an oboe reed you can play easily and confidently and your music-making (and the perception of your music-making) will go beyond what you even think is possible.

So what do you do if your reeds are too heavy?

Well, first identify the problem. Sure, if you are playing Mahler in an orchestra it isn't going to be as obvious. But if you are prepping solo stuff, make sure your reed can indeed play easily in every register.

Don't worry about how it sounds. If it isn't easy enough for you to play without popping a blood vessel, you need to lighten it.

Making a reed lighter is not bad.

It's largely just a myth. Anyway, start by thinning the tip, then maybe just go over the entire reed (without pressing!) and just get rid of some bulk. This will give you a good place to start.

Once you get used to playing on reeds you can actually play, you won't settle for anything less.


Oboist and online entrepreneur Maryn Leister helps beginner and professional oboists to be more productive and have more fun on the oboe. She publishes the weekly Oboe:Space newsletter, the Oboe Insider, and gives away more FREE oboe reed tips than she can remember with her Reed Guru service.

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