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How does the season change affect oboe reeds?

Last week I described how an oboe might change due to the change of season. You may have also been wondering about how oboe reeds might be affected by the changing of the season, and that’s what I’ll discuss today.

Oboe reeds can be so temperamental, and often contribute to the classic 🍁fall oboe 🍁vibes. They can change as you play:

  • Suddenly becoming hard

  • Suddenly becoming easy

  • Feel dry faster than before

  • Feel over-soaked faster than before

So, how do we cope with these essential but erratic reeds???

Expect the unexpected

Since our reeds can be so unpredictable, we need to be prepared and expect that unpredictability so we aren’t overly sad about it! My most successful coping mechanism is to have a lot of different reeds in my box that I made under different weather conditions. But for those purchasing their reeds rather than making them, you probably don’t have the luxury of carrying around 10-20 reeds that work most of the time like I do.

Instead, I recommend that you take note of which reeds seem to like dry or wet weather conditions. If you’re getting Fall rainstorms, plan ahead and break in or adjust one or two reeds while it’s raining so you know that they’ll behave if you need to play when it’s very humid.

If you’re starting to get the first snows of the season, and you should consider making a DIY reed case humidification system. It’s a simple DIY project to help stabilize your reeds when they are stored in dry conditions (like when the heat is on). I use this system in California when we’re having a dry winter, but I found it especially useful when I lived in Chicago. Your reeds will soak faster, play with more consistency, and hopefully last longer.

What about plastic reeds?

You may have single-reed playing friends who have heard of or tried the Légère brand of plastic reeds. I know some professional clarinetists who swear by them! Légère also makes oboe reeds, but I do not recommend them. I invested in one (it cost $150 plus shipping), and the first Légère oboe reed was delivered to me with a leak. The company replaced the reed for me, but the reed is still way too hard for me to play and doesn’t produce the resonant sound that I’m able to achieve on my traditional cane reeds. Additionally, they only come in “European scrape”, which is partly why the reed was so hard for me.

There are other companies which sell plastic reeds, but I haven’t heard any good reviews about them, so please don’t waste your precious resources on plastic reeds.

Parting thoughts…

When I was studying at DePaul, I wasn’t the best reedmaker, so one of the things I worked on a lot with my teacher was how to make a nice sound regardless of how my reed felt that day. This is our constant task: to adapt to the reeds that we have so we can play whatever we have to play.

So, as you’re practicing, don’t skip your fundamentals: crowing, long tones, intonation work, because that’s the most valuable time to spend working on manipulating the reed to sound the way you want. You may have to work harder than you’d like sometimes, and that’s OK. Just remember: your reeds won’t last forever, and there’s another good reed in your future.


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