Let’s talk about breaking in new reeds. Since we’re coming to the end of the year concert season, here's what students will need to know to break in a reed successfully BEFORE the concert. Feel free to print or forward this email to your students, and there's a TL/DR is at the end.
Why would a reed need to be “broken in?”
Well, most of the time new reeds haven’t been played a ton. They’re probably a bit resistant (hard), and sometimes not fully in tune. So, when I say “breaking in a reed”, I mean playing on the reed to make it more flexible to play.
How do you break in a new reed?
You practice with the new reed. Play a warm up (long tones, slow scale, technical exercises), then let it rest if it feels quite hard. Repeat this procedure over 2-4 days, playing on the reed a few more minutes each day until it responds comfortably to your ideal embouchure.
When should you break in a new reed?
When the reeds you’re using in rehearsal/concert are more than 4 weeks old.
When you can’t blend with the rest of the ensemble, or your intonation becomes uncontrollable
When you can’t play with your full dynamic range.
What to avoid when breaking in a reed?
The most common pitfall for oboists breaking in new reeds, even those with a lot of experience, is to use more mouth pressure than necessary when playing on a new reed because the reed feels hard.
We don’t want to use too much mouth pressure on the reed because the reed needs to have room to vibrate with itself to create sound! Oboe reeds create sound when each blade of the reed smacks against the other. If our mouth holds the reed too firmly, the two blades of the reed lose their ability to smack against each other - the vibrations are stifled.
To avoid using too much mouth pressure when breaking in a new reed:
DON’T play the reed until your embouchure is exhausted. Instead, play just your warm up routine on the new reed, then switch to a reed you can maintain a good embouchure on, even if it’s old and not so great.
DON’T expect the reed to break in comfortably in just one practice session. Slowly increase the amount of time you play the new reed in your practice session. Try to take a period of about a week of practicing on the new reed to fully break it in and use it in concert/rehearsal/lesson situation.
DON’T play the reed at a rehearsal/concert/lesson until you can play a full 30-45 minute practice session comfortably on the reed.
DON’T wait until your old reeds have completely died to break in a new reed! If you wait too long, you’ll have to play your new reed in a rehearsal/lesson/concert/audition - and that sounds hard and uncomfortable! Plan ahead and break in your new reeds BEFORE you need them!
Here's the TL/DR:
Plan ahead and break in your new reeds BEFORE you need them! Playing a new reed in a rehearsal/lesson/concert is going to be uncomfortable, and you can’t sound your best when you’re uncomfortable.
Let me know if this advice helps your students!