Skip to main content

I'm an Enabler

I think I'm enabling my students. I make most of their reeds. It's easy enough for me to do, and I earn a little extra income, too. Because of my reed business, I make them all the time, and I pretty much always have 10 or 20 with me to sell if anyone is in trouble. Although I officially require three days notice for new reeds, I am a softy and will cave for anyone who asks nicely.

However, that means that many of them decline to learn the skill for themselves. After all, they are probably not going to grow up to be professional musicians, and reedmaking is a difficult, time-consuming skill that is basically untransferable. The tools are expensive, too, and that's often a big sticking point for parents. Many of my off-site students take half-hour lessons, which is not nearly enough time to work on reeds-in-progress and also learn music. As it is, if their reeds need adjusting the lesson can be half gone before we play a full scale, much less get anything real done. Even in the 45-minute and hour lessons I teach at home, reed issues unavoidably take time away from playing and learning, and so I do not push it unless a student is very interested.

But I am beginning to regret the way we've just slid into this pattern. Students who can't make their own reeds can't adjust their own reeds either. And when every hall presents a different challenge acoustically and environmentally, and when the weather changes dramatically from day to day in this stupid climate, and when every little thing that happens in the world seems to affect the reeds, that's a huge handicap.

A couple of years ago I flew to an audition and my luggage got lost on the way. In addition to the minor inconveniences of having no clean clothes or underwear (or fresh books or the power cord to my computer or ANYTHING), I didn't have my reed tools. When I travel as an oboist I always need to check a bag so that I don't carry my knives on board and accidentally hijack the plane.

So I was stuck for the weekend with just the reeds in my case. Fortunately I had 20 or so, and I figured that something would work out, and it did. But every one that I tried would have been better if I could have just scraped a little off the tip, or out of the windows, or clipped. I had never really registered how much I rely on the last-minute tweak to make a reed sing in a given space. And it made me realize how desperate my students must feel when they have a concert a few days after their lessons and their reeds have changed and they have NO IDEA how to fix them.

I'm enabling this lack of self-sufficiency. It's easier for me, and for them in the short term, but even if their finished reeds are not good enough to play their concert on, they should have the skills to work on them.

I'd be interested to know how other teachers deal with this aspect of the game. My few students who are self-sufficient make me see how good life could be if more of them were, but I dread the long learning curve.


  1. I found your post very interesting. I started playing oboe 7 years ago at the age of 40 and would love to find somebody to teach me to make reeds. I have all the tools and a few instruction books, but without a teacher I've had very little success.

    For that matter, I would love to find a teacher for oboe lessons, but there is nobody in my small town. I'm sure I have picked up all sorts of bad habits that I don't know about. I have no aspirations to be a great oboist, but I enjoy playing with my children in a homeschool band and until recently, in church. Sure wish I had a teacher, though. :)

    I enjoy your blog.

  2. Yes, I think there is no substitute for a good teacher, especially for reed making and especially for oboe playing! :-)

    I have heard of people giving internet lessons via Skype - that might be something to look into if you could find someone clever enough to arrange such a thing...

    Thank you for your comment, and your compliment!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog


When my students get too MOUTHY with the oboe, I put them in a corner.


They tend to play the oboe only from the TOP of their body, north of the collarbone, and it winds up unsupported.  Fussy.  Weak.  And out of tune.

So I back them into a corner, and have them stand a foot or so out from it, facing out into the room.  And I challenge them to find a sound that resonates BEHIND them, out from the corner of the room that they are not facing, to fill the space without blowing directly into the space.

It's a weird metaphor.  I wouldn't have any idea how to describe the physical technique to do it. When I find it in myself, it feels like my back is puffy and my body is round, and large, and barrel like, and also collected and zipped up, and supremely powerful.  If you know me, you know that these statements about my body aren't remotely true.  But that's what I feel when I'm blowing well, and filling the room, and owning my resonance.

I teach resonance.  I talk …

Five Minute Reedmaker: Length of the Windows

My Five Minute Reedmaker Season Two seems to be largely about experiments.  People ask me how LONG, how THICK, how SLOPED, etc - and I'm running the experiments for them and for you.

I've been posting these videos on YouTube, and sharing them from my Facebook Page, but haven't totally kept up with sharing here on my blog.

Here are the ones you may have missed:
Length of the Heart
Fallacy of the Long Tip
Moldy Cane

And here's the new one:

Here's the YouTube playlist with all of my other Five Minute Reedmaker videos.  You could subscribe right there if you wanted to - I'm dropping a video each week until I run out of ideas this season.
Here's my website, where you can order reeds or cane or ask me questions.  Questions will keep these videos flowing! 

Here's how you can send me your own reeds to analyze and improve on video for your learning pleasure!

Generosity in Programming

I had the most interesting conversations with a few of my students after my first recital performance last weekend.  One thanked me for exposing her to so many interesting new pieces that she had never heard before.  One admitted unabashedly that his favorites were the familiar ones, the ones he already knew from his previous listening.  And both of these observations rang true to me.

See, I LOVE learning new music.  I really enjoy digging into a piece and breaking through an unfamiliar harmonic language to get to the depths of it.  To discover the composer's intention, and to find the universal emotion or experience at the heart of the work, and then to communicate that meaning back out to an audience.  This challenge is fun for me, and I think I do it well.

I have to be fair, though.  By the time I have put that kind of work into a new piece, it's not new to me anymore.  By the time I get it to the recital stage, it's an old friend.  I find great pleasure in performing i…