Skip to main content

Reed Habits


How do you change your reed making habits?  

Even if you feel like a reed beginner, I can promise that you have developed some habits, for good or ill.  This is how our bodies work, right?  If the way you hold your knife on day one gets you close to the scrape you want, you’ll hold it that way again.  After even ten minutes the process feels a little less foreign, and you are apt to keep repeating the same tricks.  But if you remain aware of what is going on, you can start to make decisions about how that increasing consistency is helping or hurting your process! 

I’m thinking specifically of two students I have, with easily identifiable reed issues. One consistently leaves a moat, or a thin region immediately north of her rooftop, between the heart and the rest of her sloping tip. The other allows the center of the tip to be thin, especially while working on the left side of the blade.  We’ve identified the problems. We’ve agreed that we don’t want them there.  Somehow they keep coming back.

This might be a controversial statement: You can change your habits!  I believe that you can construct a plan to get the result you want, and can rewire your habits, ultimately, so that you don’t do the same bad thing over and over.  But it’s so easy to go on auto-pilot when you are working on reeds.  The task is so tedious.  The familiarity so tempting. 

The only way I can do it - can make a significant change to the way I work - is to Think, Think, Think.  I look at the reed in my hand, and I remind myself what and how I intend to scrape and how that choice is different than my habit.  I might use pencil to mark the exact area I want, or the precise scrape I should aim for.  Then I do it, slowly. Paying attention to the task, to the goal, to my intention.  

This does take a little while, the first time.  I would even be super careful with it the second, the third, the fourth times through.  It’s funny how much easier it is to form a habit than to break one, right?  You didn’t even know you were making habits when you first started working on reeds, and suddenly you can’t seem to make a reed without a moat! 

But you can change.  

Maybe your problems are more subtle. It could be that your reeds look fine but are always sharp. Always resistant to moving between registers.  Always slow to respond down low.  These are real problems, and maybe you don’t exactly know how to address them, right?  They’re not as visibly obvious as a thin place in the tip or a moat above the heart. 

My advice?  Think Think Think.   

Form a hypothesis - if I take more out of the windows, will my pitch come down?  Then make that reed, slowly and thoughtfully, exaggerating the new idea that you had.  Once you make that reed, you may not have your solution, but you will have DATA.  

Hmmm.  My sound got more free and the opening feels more flexible.  But the pitch is still up.  

THAT’S GREAT INFORMATION!  

On your next reed, try something different.  Do it intentionally, put words on it before you start so you can identify the magic that leads to your eventual good result. You can rethink everything, from the gouge thickness to the tie length to the height of the rooftop to the size of the wall at the bottom of the heart.  Everything you were doing before is a habit, and you can change your habits.   

Think Think Think.  You can do whatever you want.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Discouraging Words

I can remember at least two old cranky violinists coming to talk to young me about NOT going into music.  There was a session, for example, during a Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra retreat in which a real RPO professional (who was probably 47 but whom I remember as ancient) told us that, statistically, no one who graduates from music school wins auditions for jobs because there are only like 4 jobs out there in the world and 7000 hotshots coming into the job market every week. 

Quit NOW. 

I may have misremembered the details of this speech, but I remember the emotional jolt.  It was designed to discourage.

Last weekend I was presenting at a Double Reed Festival, and heard some oboists grumbling about another presenter who had evidently given something of the same talk to a roomful of masterclass attendees and participants.  High school students and cheerful adult amateurs.

And look, there's an element of truth to this.  Classical music is not a growing field, and it is leg…

Shaq and the Oboe

Here’s my FAVORITE thing about that Shaquille O'Neal video everyone's sharing this week - it’s how HAPPY he is playing this silly game and how little he CARES what the oboe actually SOUNDS LIKE or how to play it. 
Almost as if the oboe is not a giant obstacle to overcome.

Instead of focusing on the CRAFT of the instrument, the precise fingerings, the quality of the sound, the finesse of the vibrato - his focus is on DELIVERING the SONG.   It’s on COMMUNICATION, not perfection.


What a LIBERATING concept!


When I am playing my best, I find that I can surpass the STRUGGLE and come to a place where my focus is on communication.   I can sing through the instrument, and I can use that voice to reach out and find someone else.  This is really what being In the Zone means for me - it's when I don’t have to engage with the OBOE and instead can be generous with my VOICE for the audience.


I seek and strive for this Zone all the time - it’s the whole point of practicing! I practice long…

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

We took a vacation this summer.This is not news to anyone in my life - anyone who knows me or especially Steve on Facebook followed along with all of our pictures.We took our travel trailer out to Arizona - via St Louis, Tulsa, Amarillo, Roswell, Santa Fe - and then stayed a week in Clarksdale and Flagstaff and visited some ancient pueblo ruins, Sedona, Jerome, the Lowell Observatory, the Grand Canyon.We swam in swimming pools, lakes, and icy mountain streams.We hiked.Eventually we came home again, via Albuquerque, Amarillo, Tulsa, and St Louis. (our inventiveness had somewhat worn out).After a week at home we took another trip, and drove to Vermont via western NY and the Adirondack Park (stayed an extra day to hike a mountain), lived four days in East Franklin VT, and came home via Catskill and eastern Ohio.
This vacation felt different from all of our previous ones.In the 21 years we’ve been married, I can name only one - maybe two trips we ever took that were not For Work or For …