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What's an "American" oboe reed?

Did you know that the “American” scrape oboe reeds are different from the oboe reeds most of the rest of the world plays on? Did you know that the “American” scrape oboe reed was developed by a Frenchman?

It’s true! I just edited a short video for Lesson 6 of Switching To Oboeabout the American scrape oboe reed, because I think all oboe students should know at least a little bit about where their reeds come from and why reeds look and sound the way they do.

The Long Scrape reed

Here in the US, the majority of oboists play on “American” or long-scrape oboe reeds. In the rest of the world, oboists play short-scrape reeds. The biggest thing that differentiates long scrape from short scrape oboe reeds is what parts of the reed have been thinned and what parts haven’t been thinned. If you take a look at the diagrams below, I’ve drawn out both long scrape and short scrape oboe reeds, and labeled the parts of the reeds.

Long scrape reed

Short scrape reed​

Long scrape reeds have, as the name suggests, a L O N G E R section of the reed thinned out, and thus more of the material of the reed will vibrate. That’s where you get the classic long-scrape sound from. I love doing a comparison between American and European oboists to capture the difference in sound between long scrape and short scrape reeds. Here are links to videos of Katherine Needleman, American principal oboist of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Cristina Gomez Godoy, Spanish principal oboist of the Staatskapelle Berlin.

How did the long scrape reed come to be?

Great question. Let’s think back to the early 1900s. The US was having troubles finding enough qualified oboists to play in orchestras, so many French musicians migrated here to play. One French oboist in particular, Marcel Tabuteau, developed the long scrape reed when he was living here in the US and playing in various American Orchestras. He felt he needed a different sound than his traditional short-scrape reeds would allow so he could be heard over the big American orchestra. So he did some experimentation, and found the sound he wanted by creating the extended back that we use today.

Ok, not quite like today, reeds have changed over time, especially since Tabuteau was famous for not teaching his students how to make reeds, so they just kinda figured it out on their own, I guess. There are different lineages of reedmaking styles based on the different prominent oboists who studied with Tabuteau and then taught reedmaking to their students. Today there are as many styles of long scrape reed as there are oboists who make reeds! See you next time, Alli


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