24. November 2010 · 7 comments · Categories: Oboe

I was reading David’s clarinet blog, where he asks clarinetists how much mouthpiece do you take in? So of course now I’ll ask oboe players a similar question:

How much reed do you take in?

Some of my students are reed swallowers. I was listening to an oboist on YouTube and the player took so much reed in that you couldn’t see a speck of the cane … the mouth was all the way to the thread. I take in very little reed. I will foolishly and bravely put up a very short video of me demonstrating how much reed is in my mouth. When I did this video I had absolutely no intention of putting it on the blog; I had a student use my iPhone to get this so she could then compare my embouchure and flat chin to her swallowing of the reed and what I call “bunchy chin”. Both of us played the same piece so she could also compare intonation and sound. But really, I wasn’t planning on showing this to another soul! (In other words, do be expecting much from this!)

So as you can see, there’s a lot of cane showing. (This video will not stay up for long; I’m not at all comfortable with the sound … or that face!)

Here’s a photo of my embouchure … a little more bearable for me to see this than hear and see the above:

I wish I could find the video the person who was playing (beautifully, by the way) and swallowing the reed.

So … how much reed do you take in? Do tell!

I am thinking about this at the moment for several reasons. For one, I was pondering why I take in less reed. I believe it has to do with control. Any part of the reed that is vibrating inside my mouth and isn’t touching the lip cannot be controlled. Call me a control freak, but I like to have control of the darn reeds! If I take in more reed my pitch center is thrown as well, and I can’t stand the tone. Yet some people can produce a lovely sound that way. I’m assuming reeds must be quite different.

And that brings me to the other reason I’ve been thinking of this. I recently purchased some reeds from a reed maker someone had recommended. (I’m looking for additional suppliers for my students, and I don’t want them to randomly spend money so I attempt to try a few reeds by various makers before giving them names.) The reeds are much shorter than what I’m used to … only 68mm long, and the reed maker uses a 46mm staple. The odd thing is, I was horrendously flat on them! Odd! I tried playing around with embouchure to see what it would take to bring them up to pitch. I had to pull the corners of my mouth back and bite a bit (possibly resulting in a bunchy chin, although I didn’t pay attention to that). I just can’t go there. At least not comfortably.

Okay, reed and embouchure ramble over and out.

And stop laughing about how I look and my sound, please!


  1. Hi Patty and Happy Thanksgiving!
    I take in about the same amount of reed that you do. I too have noticed a few professional players that will take in more reed. To my ears, they have an edgier sound but perhaps out in the audience, they sound fine. I agree that playing further up on the reed doesn’t give me as much control/flexibility. I also notice I’ll play a little sharper and louder further up the reed but that doesn’t necessary mean I’m projecting as well. I guess I only go up on the reed for the notes high A and above.

    BTW, you look a lot better than a lot of oboists when they play. Playing the oboe is not a pretty sight, especially when we get older. We may look like an ugly duckling but we sound like a smooth swan. ;~)

    Are the short reeds you tried a wide shape?

  2. Hi Janet, and Happy Thanksgiving back at you! 🙂

    We seem to be much the same with embouchure from what you write.

    At some point I guess I need to get better recording equipment. I just did a bit again on my iPhone and the sound is really bad … unless that’s really how I sound. Gee, I hope not! But I was quickly recording to make SURE I’m doing what I say and also checking to see how different reeds sound on the phone. (No matter what they seem to sound too bright and thin. I suppose I should get better equipment and make sure that’s not how I really sound. Uh-oh!)

    The reeds I purchased look to be similar to the shape I use, which isn’t wide. I’m thinking the gouge may be very thick down the center, though. In any case, they sure won’t work for me or my students! I’ll be trying more to see if I can find some that will work. We’ll see!

  3. Patty this is a great topic that I talk about on a DAILY basis! So important for students to understand, not too much in, not too much out, it has to be just right…
    I take in a little more reed than you, maybe a mm or two- I think it is due to my lips– they are a little fuller and kind of naturally take in reed with them. I also recently saw videos on YouTube of more than one *famous* oboist who were pretty much on the string… thought it was funny that you mentioned the same thing! 🙂
    Happy Turkey Day!!

  4. Caitlin, I know you’re right … fuller lips cause one to take in more reed. So I do try to take that into consideration as I “hound” my students! (But they DO, I’m sure, see me as a hound!)

    I wonder if we were watching the same video … do you remember what it was? My OldBoeBrain can’t recall! 🙂

  5. I also hound my students to stay on the tip of the reed (as my teacher did me when I was young). And I always demonstrate to them with my fingers and the reed how you have more control when you stay on the tip. So I am in complete agreement with you.

  6. It’s always nice to be agreed with! 🙂

  7. I agree with all of you that too much reed produces a poorly controlled and edgy (blatty) sound.

    I tell my students that the least amount of reed you can use is just enough to allow you to sustain a steady tone. (This is a good approach to pianissimo: smush the reed with your lips, then blow hard enough to keep a sound happening.)Now if you deliberately use too much reed and mlay the interval B natural/C natural in the staff, you will see the interval is too wide. Use less and less reed until the interval is in tune. This is the most reed you can use.

    There is a small window between these two spots you can play around with depending on dynamic, color etc…