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The Complete Guide To The Oboe Reed

Oboe Reed

The Oboe Reed

The oboe reed is one of the major parts of the oboe which is an incredible double-reed instrument. 

Specifically, the oboe is a woodwind that creates a uniquely breathtaking sound with its double reed.

The oboe reed is like a mouthpiece of the instrument. The reed plays a very significant role in playing the oboe and is the most delicate part of the instrument.  

The Oboe

Student Oboe

Generally, the oboe is a musical instrument made from wood. This woodwind instrument is constructed as a slender tube with a bell shaped end.

On the body of the oboe are attached metal keys and rod systems. The keys are operated by the fingers and they help the player to change the sound from the reed to different pitches.

Unlike other woodwind or reed instruments like the clarinet or saxophone, the oboe uses a double reed for its sound production.

This versatile instrument has the different parts that made it up and the reed section is one of the parts. Other parts of the oboe are the upper joint, lower joint, and bell.

Basically, all the parts of the oboe contribute to the sound production of the oboe. However, the oboe reed is the main part the oboe used for its sound production.

In the article Oboe And History Behind The Double Reed Instrument, we discussed more about the instrument’s history in detail. However, in this particular article, we will look into oboe reeds from different perspectives.

The Oboe Reed And The Sound

The reed is one of the parts of the oboe and the most significant part used by the instrument for sound production.

Actually, the sound of the instrument comes from the reed. Notwithstanding, the oboist’s embouchure also plays a major role in the instrument sound production.

Oboe used a double reed for its sound production. Double reeds are made up of two reeds vibrating against each other.

To play the oboe or to make it sound, the player blows air past the double reeds at the appropriate pressure.

The sound can be heard because the oboe double-reed vibrates when the player blows through it. And the sound vibration from the reed (which is disturbing air) will travel to other parts of the instrument.

Basically, the sound vibration from the oboe reed passes through the body of the oboe through the staple. Of course, the oboe double reed is normally attached to the staple.

The staple connects the reed into the hole known as the reed well located at the top of the oboe body. The Staple then directs the vibration to the air column inside the bore of the instrument body.

The air inside the bore of the instrument also vibrates and amplifies the sound.

The vibrating air column inside the bore of the oboe can then be manipulated into tones of different pitches. This is done by the key system attached to the body of the instrument.

Effect of Reed

The reed has a great influence on the tone quality of the instrument. The reed is also the determinant of how bright or dull the oboe will sound.

Specifically, if the reed is not properly made or has been damaged, let say cracked, the sound coming out from the instrument will be affected.

The effect of the bad reed on the sound of the instrument is not limited to the tone quality of the oboe but also the pitch of the note.

Most professional oboists prefer to make their reeds instead of buying them because the quality of the reed influences the oboe’s sound.

So they make their personal reed to have great control over the reed’s material, and the quality of their oboe sound and pitch.

Specifically, they will have control over the instrument’s tone colour, as well as its response and other sound effects of a good oboe.

Characteristics of Good Oboe Reed

The way oboe reed was designed to produce sound when the player blows through the double reed is to vibrate and generate sound easily.

Basically, a good oboe reed should be responsive and consistent. That means it has to vibrate easily when the player has blown through it normally. 

Furthermore, it should continue to maintain its response in all registers with ease.

The inability of the oboe reed to respond is a red flag because it will be very difficult to produce sound with it. This can be frustrating to oboe players to some extent.

Also, a good oboe reed should also be stable. A stable oboe reed allows the player to play in tune with just a little lip pressure.

The good reed will not be difficult to play and it will easily produce a good tone with little effort.

Other characteristics of a good oboe reed are articulation, crow, opening, and tone colour.

Parts Of The Oboe Reed

The Oboe reed is somehow the smallest part of the instrument compared to other parts of its body. 

However, there are the different parts that make up the reed as well. The diagram above shows the parts of the oboe reed.

The part of the oboe reed shown above can be achieved with the final scraping of the cane. This is done during the final stage of the oboe reed-making process.

Regardless of who makes the reed, the tips, heart, and windows are a must on the finished reed.

The spine of the reed spans the center of the oboe reed. The rail at the edge of the reed marks out the shape of the reed’s windows.

The spine of the reed as well as its rails is the thickest part of the finished oboe reed. Most often, they were left with the cane bark.

On the other hand, the tip of the finished reed is the thinnest part of the oboe reed. The thickness of the tip is somehow less than 5 micrometers at the upper corners of the reed.

There is a noticeable gradation in thickness outspread from the bottom-center of the reed tip. 

Also, a linear gradient exists in the windows. The gradient spreads from the base of the windows and transforms into the heart of the reed.

Likewise, there is a visible gradient in the heart of the reed. But the gradient, unlike the windows gradient, spans from the spine of the reed to the edges of the reed.

The heart of the reed tends to be the chunkiest part of the reed. Although the thickness of the windows exhibits the utmost different strokes among makers.

Types of Oboe Reeds

Oboe Reed Type

The oboe reeds can be classified into different types according to the material used. With this classification, we have two types of oboe reed which are cane reed and synthetic reed.

Basically, the material used to make the oboe reeds add some quality to the instrument sound.

We need to know the difference between these different types of the oboe reed. This will help us to know the best fit for as a professional or beginners.

The Cane Oboe Reeds

This is the type of reed made from wood cane and is the most popular reed for oboe. Typically, cane reeds are made from bamboo cane popularly known as Arundo donax.

This type of oboe can also be classified into two types according to the process of making it. The two common classes of cane oboe are Machine-Made reeds and hand-made reeds. 

Also, we have hand-finished reeds but not as common as the previous two.

The Machine-Made Oboe Reeds

This is typically the type of oboe reeds made on a reed profiling or reed-making machine. The profile and final adjustment of the machine-made reeds are done on the oboe profiling machine.

In the making of the machine-made reeds, the profiler does the work without any special treatment or consideration to any of the reeds. This makes the finishing reeds different in quality from one another.

Again, the reeds were made with the profiler machine without testing them for the response, tone quality, and so on.

Notwithstanding, the price of machine-made reeds is considerably less compared to handmade reeds.

The Hand-Made Oboe Reeds

This type of reed is typically made by hand with different hand tools and they provide the best performance result.

The Hand-Made reeds are strictly made for tone stability and test for a response along with intonation and tone quality.

Many professional oboists use Hand-Made oboe reeds they make themselves because they are more reliable.

Most Hand-Made reeds are handcrafted to help professional oboists sound their best as well achieve their goals.

In addition, Hand-Made reeds are specially made for the professional oboist to have a more satisfying music performance.

The Hand-Made reed is very expensive compared to the machine-made but is the best reed money can buy.

In conclusion, the Hand-Made reeds provide more intonation and stability than the Machine-Made reeds purchased in the store.  Machine-Made reeds are made in series and do not guarantee proper intonation and stability.

Synthetic Oboe Reed

Synthetic Oboe Reed

This is another type of oboe reed and it’s based on the material used. The synthetic reeds were created by imitating the properties and response of natural wood cane.

These reeds are normally made with a plastic material blend and they are consistent in their response and sound.

Also, the composites made from fibers held together by resins are commonly used materials for newer synthetic reeds. One of the materials used in making the synthetic oboe reed is Fibercane®.

Synthetic reed is totally different from cane reed in terms of tone quality. However, synthetic reeds are very easy to use and last longer than cane reeds.

A benefit of synthetic reeds is that they are cheaper and perform well under all environmental conditions.

they are more stable to wear and tear caused by moisture from the player’s saliva or lung vapours.  

And they are much more stable to atmospheric conditions like temperature and humidity change.

Oboe Reed Classification

Besides the different types of oboe reed that we have, the reeds are also classified according to their strength. 

Specifically, oboe reeds like its double reed brother, bassoon are classified into five different strengths. The five classes are hard, medium-hard, medium, medium-soft, and soft.

Oboe players should know the type of reed that is best for them. Typically, the reeds needed for every oboist are different.

For instance, beginner oboists will need a soft or medium-soft reed to start the journey into oboe playing.

As the beginner oboists evolve in their playing and strengthen their embouchure, they will need different strengths of the reed. At this time, a medium or medium-hard reed will not be a bad idea.

Above all, the strengths of oboe reed an oboe player prefers are very important in their choice of reed.

Oboe Reed Life Span

The lifespan of the oboe reed is measured by how much playing time or set of vibrations it passes through before it wears out. 

Normally, the oboe reed is very thin and fragile and does not last long.

There is no specific time or day for the reed lifespan. How long or last the oboe reeds are depended on the rate of their usage.

The more we use the reed the quicker they get worn out. For instance, if “reed A” vibrates one hour a day and five days per week. And another reed, let’s say “reed B” vibrates thirty minutes per day and three days per week.

If both reed A and B are the same, the “reed A” with frequent use will quickly wear out compared to “reed B” with lesser use.

Moreover, there are other factors that contribute to the lifespan of the oboe reed.  

In particular, the atmospheric condition our reeds expose to and the way we use them can affect their lifespan.

Effect of Atmospheric Condition on The Reed

Basically, oboe reeds are very sensitive to dry weather and several other factors that can change their physical condition.

For instance, the cold atmosphere will affect the reed’s longevity as well as its response to vibration. So we need to keep our oboe reed away from cold weather.

Moreover, the change in altitude, humidity, and temperature can affect the reed response to playing and also shorten its lifespan. Because the reeds are fragile and can easily crack and chip.

So we need to keep our reed inside the reed case to prevent it from the harsh atmospheric conditions that can shorten its lifespan.

The case will prevent the reed from cracking and chipping to some extent and as a result, increase their lifespan.

Effect of The Reed Usage

Also, how we use and treat the reed has an impact on its lifespan.

For example, over soaking the reeds will cut the lifespan of the reed short. So we do not need to soak a reed for so long.

Anything above two to three minutes of soaking at any given point will shorten the lifespan of oboe reeds. Also, the water at room temperature should be used to soak the reed.

Final Thought

Knowing what oboe reed looks like and its different types and strength will help students and every oboe player make their choice.

We have tried to look into the different aspects of oboe reeds in this post and hope it is beneficial to you or your students.

Generally, the oboe reed is the most delicate part of the instrument and the most disappointing part about playing the oboe.

However, getting to know more about the reed will help beginners or developing oboists on their journey to professional players.

As this post may not answer all your questions about the oboe reed, we hope it points you to the necessary things you need to know about the oboe reed.

At Phamox Music, we go all out for exactness and honesty. For this purpose, if by any means you found any possible glitch, be it factual, editorial or something that we need to update, kindly contact us.


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