Aperture Management For Peak Oboe Reed Performance

One Size Does Not Fit All

The general aim of most reeds is to blow as freely as possible, maintaining maximum expression.  They need to be able to play with a rich, warm tone; in tune; with a good dynamic range; and  with adequate response throughout the scale.  The size of the reed's aperture is a critical factor in this.

The right reed aperture for any player is based on a combination of taste, embouchure development, wind speed.  

Apertures that are too large make the reed raucous, loud and impossible to control.  Your lips will get tired, it will be difficult to get through a page of music.  Those that are too small do not speak.  Players with very good wind speed can open a reed with a smaller aperture enough to play as long as it is not too small.  We prefer an aperture in the middle to a little larger.

Your Own Best Aperture

Strong embouchures and "covering" of the reed can be compatible with larger apertures.  Weak embouchures and the desire for a completely "free blowing" are generally more compatible with smaller apertures. Some players who have great wind speed and are able to use it to open a closed reed during play so that it vibrates properly.  Professionals and others  who have to get through a whole recital or concerto often select reeds with the smallest aperture that will both help get through the event and maintain their structure without collapsing, generally just south of the middle of the range.  Beginners with no embouchure have to have a reed that compensates for their lack of control.  Nobody wants to sound like a duck.

Aperture Management

While the construction of the reed is the most important factor in aperture management, there  are several strategies that any player can employ to manage their apertures in real time.  These include proper hydration, a good pinch, and pliers in an emergency.

Preparing Your Reed For Play-Water

Every oboist needs to be equipped with a jigger for home and a sealable pill vial when in school or on the road.  Soaking the reed in luke warm to warm water opens the aperture and softens the fibers so that it vibrates properly.  While it is generally recommended that you soak your reed for 20 seconds, effective aperture management means customizing this routine to the requirements of the reed.  The longer you  let a reed sit after soaking, the more the aperture will swell.  Be careful not to let it sit too long...and please use water instead of saliva whenever possible.

If you are in concert (or rehearsal) and you spend more than a couple of minutes waiting for your next entrance, make sure that your reed is properly hydrated so that its aperture resembles that aperture that you had before the rest.  Otherwise, you may need to wrestle with the reed to get the response you want.

Preparing Your Reed For Play- The Pinch

A pinch here and a pinch there goes a long way to managing short-term aperture requirements.

To open a closed reed with a pinch, place your finger tips on the sides of the reed.  Gradually put pressure  on the side to open the reed.  Do not pinch too firmly all at once.  You may damage the reed and make it unplayable.  Generally,the longer you play on a reed, the more the aperture responds by closing.

When a reed is too open, we recommend a two step process.    Start by pinching the from and the back of the end of the tip.  If it doesn't do enough, gradually move back the reed, until  you reach the the heart and try again.  If this doesn't work, the next step is go to the base of the back (just above the thread) and try again- increasing pressure as needed.  If you are a skilled reed maker and none of the above works, consider taking more bark out of the base of the reed (3-4 mm above thread).

A Good Plier Goes A Long Way

There are times that your reed has been really played out, and isn't doing the job.  This can happen in the middle of an important rehearsal or even a concert.   These times call for extraordinary measures, especially when you don't have access to another reed that is ready to play.  The risks are not great because the reed is about to die anyway.  Our suggestion is to carry pliers with you.  Position your pliers 2-3 mm under the top edge of the thread (front and back not side to side of the reed).  Gently put pressure on the string/staple face and increase pressure until the aperture opens.  It will not return to its original size, but the strategy may be what you need to make it through the event.