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.