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  • Writer's picturemargueritelevin

Let's Open a New Box of Reeds

A musician in the Sudbury Valley New Horizons Music of Massachusetts has requested that I discuss breaking in a new box of reeds. If you don't know about the New Horizons program, check them out. They are all over the country and their goal is to get adults making music. You need no experience at all or you can be one of those folks who played while in school and you are finally coming back to your instrument. Or, maybe you want to learn a new one!

Here is the link to the National organization:

Here is a link to the Sudbury Valley New Horizons Music

PLEASE NOTE: These suggestions are appropriate for school aged students (Grade 6-12) and community band and orchestra players.

I like to break in a new box of reeds over 7-10 days. This means that I am playing very little on them, hence the words "breaking them in." I try to stay two weeks ahead of when I will need a new batch

The Grand Opening - Soak each reed, one at a time, in a bowl of water (very little in the beginning, no more than a minute). The reed is young and will soak up the water right away, as it is thirsty. The amount of soaking increases as the reed ages.

On a flat surface such as a piece of glass, polish the reed on the back (where the label is located) with a sheet of paper. Just slide the back of the reed back and forth, for a few seconds. We are trying to smooth out the back so that it sits evenly on the mouthpiece. As you become more confident, you can use a sheet of Grade 2000 sand paper to do this.

I also like to polish the front of the reed, as it is often a little rough when it first comes out of the box. You can use your finger to rub it and once again when you feel more experienced, use the 2000 sand paper.

Number and date your reeds so that you can keep track of their age and of the ones you like.

Play Testing

Day 1&2 - a few notes, a scale or two

Day 3&4 - play 5 to 10 minutes

Day 5&6 - small adjustments where needed

Day 7-10 - reeds are usually ready to perform on

How to Adjust

Store bought reeds are for the most part so much better than they were many years ago. I remove very little material with the following suggestions:

· Low register is difficult to speak - remove material using either a reed knife or sand paper that you can control, from the bottom of the vamp, which is near the bark of the reed.

· Middle register is difficult- remove from the middle of the vamp

· High register is difficult - remove material from the upper part of the vamp, careful not to touch the tip!

DO NOT TOUCH THE TIP - until you are very experienced working on reeds, stay away from the tip. It is very easy to ruin a good reed in this area.

Now, these are super simple guidelines and you will learn the more you play what works for you.

The Ultimate by RS Berkeley (a reed sculpting tool) I have always used sandpaper but I just got this email yesterday about this reed tool. I have ordered and will give an update in the coming weeks about my results.

This video (see link)is very short and gives information on how to use the tool.

Please let me know if you have any questions and here's to good reeds that last!!!

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