Saturday, July 30, 2011

Choosing Reeds -- Some Criteria

Today I'm going to get really nerdy and talk about reeds!

The bassoon reed is the medium that connects the instrument to your breath. It is the most finicky, sensitive part of the bassoon.  With a bad reed a seasoned professional can sound like a beginner!

I have devoted much of my website to the process of reed making.  Perhaps some of you have found it helpful.

I want to talk about something not discussed on the website, though -- that is, how I choose reeds for concerts, auditions, etc.

First of all, the reeds I choose for public exposure must all do certainly things well:
  1. They must respond easily and predictably in all registers at all dynamics.
  2. The tone must be homogeneous throughout the range of the bassoon.
  3. They must have a true "pp" throughout the range. This may seem redundant with #1, but in the Cleveland Orchestra, "pp" is an especially important dynamic, so I put a high value on this quality.
  4. The pitch level of the reed must match with A=440 and individual pitches must lock in place easily.
  5. The tone must also be resonant and beautiful.
At first glance, my list seems to skew towards reeds that play softly but don't have a full tone.  On the contrary, I find that when I have a reed that responds easily and plays softly it usually has a full tone when that is what is demanded of it.  I believe the wide dynamic range comes from several things:
  1. A reed with well-balanced blades and symmetrical tip opening
  2. Cane of a medium/hard density
  3. A scrape that leaves strength in areas of structural support, but is rather thin in areas of response and resonance
  4. Good beveling and attention to the leverage provided by the wires and tube formation
The "Omnireed"

When first learning to make reeds, most bassoonists spend a lot of time trying to reproduce a certain type of reed as exactly as possible.  Usually it's the teacher's style.  This is extremely important, since, in reed making, quantity builds quality.

This "Omnireed" can do a lot of things (see list above).  I still rely on producing such reeds 75% of the time. However, as the player progresses and as more demands are placed upon the player by conductors, colleagues and the repertoire, identifying and enhancing a reed's particular strengths becomes more important than trying to make it do everything that is asked of it.

In my next post, I'll discuss the need for specialty reeds and how I develop them.

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