top of page

The #1 step that will make playing oboe easier is…

…soaking your reed for the right amount of time and in the right amount of water!

Have you ever made the mistake of leaving your reed in water for like 10 minutes during a practice break?

When you come back, the reed is water-logged, flat, hard, and super open. You might even feel like you’ve lost your ability to play oboe at all!

Not to worry - as long as you’re rotating your reeds, you’ve got another reed in your case that will soak up fairly quickly so you can resume your practice session on a comfortable reed.

As we’re in the beginning of the school year still, I thought I’d review some basics with you to give you new perspectives and things to try for yourself. Today’s topic: soaking reeds.

How long should I soak my reed?

My general rule of thumb is 30-60 seconds, HOWEVER if you’re playing in a very dry climate without using a reed humidification system, or if it’s super cold and you’re soaking your reed in cold water…you may need longer than that.

Generally speaking, don’t soak your reed for more than 2 minutes.

How frequently does my reed need to be soaked?

This can be a matter of climate - heavily air conditioned environments or very dry environments can dry your reed out any time it’s not in your mouth. Or, if you’re like me and have crazy allergies, you might have dry-mouth most of the time due to medications you take. When you feel the reed start to become dry in your mouth as you play, give it a quick dunk in water to rehydrate it so you can keep playing.

You may find that you need to soak your reed for 15-30 seconds during long rests or between movements, so try to be flexible and give the reed what it needs. It’s OK to experiment and see what’s most comfortable for you!

How much of my reed needs to be in water?

This is the crucial mistake that I see students make: putting just the tip of the reed in water, but not immersing the reed fully into the reed cup!

Your reed needs to be immersed up to the thread (or with a bit of the thread in the water) for best results.

Why can’t I soak my reed in my mouth?

I know we often see clarinet and saxophone students suck on their reed to wet it enough to play, but oboe reeds don’t work that way! We need all 4 sides of the reed to be fully immersed in water to soften enough to play well.

Additionally, your spit is way more than just water! It’s the first step of the digestive process, and your digestive enzymes are going to do a great job at starting to break down your reed if you only suck on it to get it wet. That’s going to cut down the lifespan of your reeds drastically.

How do I know if my reed isn’t soaked enough?

Reeds that aren’t soaked enough (or haven’t been deep enough in water) will have a slightly brighter tone quality. Semi-dry reeds won’t have as large an opening, or the opening will start to collapse on you, so they often play quite sharp. They can also feel SUPER hard or SUPER easy (resistance isn’t a good measure of whether your reed is too dry unless it’s suddenly/strangely hard or easy).

I over-soaked my reed…now what do I do?

My best suggestion is to switch reeds and use a different reed. Over-soaked reeds will take a while to dry out, so you may want to let it rest in the case until the next day.

But I don’t have time to get water before class…

I promise you that your Band Director will help you solve this problem. Maybe you can keep a bottle of water in your instrument locker just for filling your water cup. Maybe your director will have a pass ready for you in case you’re running late and need to get water from the drinking fountain not inside the classroom.

This is a solvable problem, so please communicate with your director if you need help!

But I forgot my water cup at home…

This is another problem your Band Director can potentially help you with. If you’re forgetful, or if your water cup doesn’t fit inside your oboe case, perhaps you can have an at-school-only water cup that lives in your instrument locker, or on a shelf in the band room.

This is another solvable problem, please discuss it with your director!


If this post was helpful, and you'd like to get tips like this delivered to your inbox weekly, you can by subscribing to my weekly newsletter Oboe 101. It's written for oboists, their parents, and educators.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page