11. March 2008 · 5 comments · Categories: Ramble

I’ve been watching a YouTube video of an oboe lesson. The woman talking says that oboists need to soak their reeds in tap water rather than their mouths due to the kind of cane we use. She says there’s a lot of protein in our cane, and saliva breaks it down (yes, I’ve heard that before). She implies that single reeds don’t have that issue. But I’ve also read that clarinet reeds are made out of arundo donax, which is what we use.

So if there are any clarinetists who read this, do you have anything to say about this?

I haven’t watched the entire video yet. Even if I had I probably wouldn’t critique it. I’m not into critiquing. (It can come back to haunt a person!)


  1. I guess it’s possible that commercial clarinet and oboe reeds are made from different species of reed, but I would be skeptical that the market is large enough to allow for that level of specialization. Plus, everyone I know who makes their own clarinet/sax reeds uses the same sources that double reedists use. The reason that I thought that oboists used tap/bottled water as opposed to saliva was because it seems really gross to spit into a film canister in the quantities required. We get the “saliva breaks down cane” line here in single reed world too and I don’t ever really understand why it’s a point worth discussing. It seems like something we can’t really do much about, no? And even if we could do something, what good would it do?

  2. I’m not a clarinetist, but this idea that oboe reeds and clarinet reeds are made out of different cane is almost certainly false. My conception has always been that soaking in a cup rather than in the mouth was better because the inner surface of each blade of cane needs water as well as the outer surface (not to mention the unpredictable chemical balance of saliva). Also keep in mind the turnaround rate of single reed players’ reeds compared to double reed players’. Maybe the breakdown rate isn’t different at all; it’s just a lot easier for a single reed player to throw out a reed after two rehearsals and reach into the box for the next one than for a double reed player.

  3. As a clarinet player, I’ve never been told by a teacher that I needed to soak my reeds in water rather than in my mouth. In saying that, though, I typically soak mine in water. After getting to be really good friends with an oboe player my first year in college and talking with him about some about reed stuff, I decided to see if there would be any noticeable difference to me if I used water instead. Since doing this, my reeds have seemed to last longer when I use water instead soaking them in my mouth.
    Most other single reed players I know soak their reeds in their mouth.
    Maybe the difference between single reed and double reed players soaking their reeds in water vs. in their mouth is that the smaller double reed is affected more quickly and to a greater degree than the larger single reed when soaked in saliva…but that is just a guess.

  4. Thanks everyone!

    I always had assumed soaking in water (and, to be honest, not really soaking but just dipping and removing so the reed doesn’t sit in water at all) was due to trying to avoid saliva when possible. Obviously it’s not possible when we are playing … but considering all the junk in our mouths, it just seems at least one way to avoid gunking up the reed.

    According to one reed maker saliva breaks down some protein in the reeds, though. Hmm.

    As to saoking in AND out … well, back when I didn’t use water I’d (sorry to gross anyone out here) just put saliva both inside and outside of the reed.

    Happy to get all of your thoughts on this! 🙂

  5. But, isn’t the clarinet reed a lot thicker than the oboe reed? If so, it would take longer for the saliva to “digest” the cellulose in the reed. Perhaps the clarinet reed just loses its elasticity from use before the saliva would have time to do its damage.