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Have I over-soaked my reed?

This edition is dedicated to the Redwood Middle School beginning oboe students. Last week at our sectional, I did some reed adjusting for one student, and we had a group discussion about soaking reeds. Come to find out, they were soaking their reed for 3-5 minutes at a time, which flabbergasted me, so today I’m going to talk about over-soaked reeds. 

How long does it take to soak an oboe reed? 

This is an excellent question, and the unfortunate answer is: it depends. Here’s a short list of factors to consider when soaking your reed: 

  • If the environment is very dry, one might need to soak a reed for a longer time. 

  • If the environment is very humid, it won’t take long to soak a reed. 

  • If the reed hasn’t been played in a long time (over a week), it may need to soak longer than normal. 

  • If you just played the reed earlier in the day, you may only need to give it a quick swish in the water cup before you play. 

As you can see, the ambient humidity in the air, the age of the reed, and when you last used the reed all play a part in answering this question. 

Why shouldn’t I soak my reed for 5 minutes? 

Contrary to the advice the student was given, we generally should not soak an oboe reed for 5 minutes. This will result in the reed becoming over-soaked. The fibers of the reed will absorb too much water and get too large, which can result in: 

  • The reed suddenly feeling way too hard 

  • The reed’s opening becoming way too open 

  • The intonation of the reed becoming abnormally flat

  • The dynamic range of the reed becoming too loud

  • Feeling difficult to control. 

If I over-soaked my reed, what should I do? 

I typically let the reed rest for at least a few hours, and often until the following day. I have found that once a reed is over-soaked that day, it will absorb water faster, and be more likely to feel over-soaked when I play it later on. (This is one reason why you should have multiple reeds that work available to use anytime you play!) 

What about reeds that are super closed, though? 

Closed reeds are the one exception to the rule of not soaking your reed too long. If your reed is really closed and the opening keeps collapsing on you, the best thing to do is over-soak that reed. Since the cane will absorb a bunch of water, it will puff up and have a more robust opening than normal. The drawback is that the reed will slowly dry out over time, and the opening will collapse down again eventually - especially if your mouth pressure is fairly high. 

The TL/DR: 

The beauty and curse of playing oboe is that every reed is different, and needs something slightly different. You’ll have to experiment a little bit to find the Goldilocks amount of time to soak each reed for best results, and it changes based on how much humidity is in the air. Be patient, expect a little trial and error, and good luck! 


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