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A student asked: “why do my oboe reeds play flat?”

If the reeds are not super long, generally, this means more breath support is needed. An indelicate test for this is to play into a tuner, and squeeze the reed harder with your lips while you’re playing. If the pitch is uncertain or swoops upward, the reed is too easy for you, and your concentration of breath is not sufficient to make it work consistently.

A common misconception is that softer reeds means easier reeds. Actually, the softer (easier, less resistant) a reed, the more embouchure control and breath support are needed to produce a good, consistent and in-tune sound.

Always consider that the instrument may be having a problem, too. If all your reeds are flat, or weird, it’s probably not you, or the reeds. Get your instrument to a repair technician.

If you have an experienced teacher, they will be your best resource. If not, try asking around and see if you can find someone to work with you in person.

There’s a great book on this subject that can help out. The Breathing Book, by Stephen Caplan, is a guide we trust. 60 pages of detailed instructions, illustrations, explanations, and examples. It’s helped out many a flummoxed reed player.

There’s a so much more to share on this topic – this little explanation barely scrapes the surface (hehe). I’ll write more sometime soon.

Have any questions? Let me know. I know a lot of stuff, and I’m eager to share.

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How often should I bring my instrument in for adjustment?

Most players find that having their instrument examined every 2 years works well. Of course, bring it in sooner if something doesn’t feel right, or there’s a problem.

What a repair tech does every two years might include a play test and a check to make sure all the pads are sealing well. Here at Charles Double Reeds we use a machine that measures how much air is escaping when all the pads are closed. It’s a test in which we plug one side of the joint, and then use a magnehelic machine to blow a steady stream of air in from the other side.  If any air is escaping, we’ll know right away.

There’s usually a bit of dusting needed, and depending on how much you’ve been practicing, the instrument might be pretty dirty. Your repair tech might simply polish and dust or they might recommend a more thorough cleaning. Cleaning before the instrument gets really dirty will extend the life of the pads, and make the whole instrument feel better to play.

Then a light oil is applied in the places where metal touches metal and moves. This usually does not need to be done more regularly. If you live in a very humid, or arid climate, oiling the keys more often might be a good idea.

You might expect a biannual examination to take about an hour. The cost can vary if parts are needed, or there is a specific problem like a crack or bent key. Ask in advance, and your repair tech will give you a quote, and work to keep it affordable.

For even more info, visit our instrument repair page.