How to Pick Oboe Reeds

If you play the oboe, one of the most important things that affects your playing is your reed. The reed is the mouthpiece of the oboe – the part you put your mouth on and blow into – and it is essential to making a sound on the oboe. Playing on good reeds is essential to learning how to have a good embouchure (mouth position), having good response of the notes, and producing a good tone.

Oboe reeds are made out of a type of bamboo, which is a specific size and thickness. This “cane” is processed into the shape needed to tie it onto a piece of metal and cork (called the “staple”), and then scraped on and shaved down until it can be cut open, and the two sides of the reed can vibrate against each other to create sound when air is blown into them.

This is how many wind instruments work – while reed instruments make sound by pieces of “reed” vibrating, while brass instruments make sound because of the lips vibrating.

What Kind of Reed to Get

The more a reed is scraped on, the easier it becomes to play. Beginning players often start out with easier reeds, and once you get more practice, you start needing reeds that are less scraped on to sound better.

Another thing to keep in mind when you are buying reeds is that if your teacher can fix the reeds for you, you should buy harder reeds since once a reed has been scraped to become easier, it is impossible to make it harder again.

If you want to know more about reedmaking, there are tons of resources online and teachers willing to help out! (P.S. do not use WikiHow as a guide)

Buying Reeds

The best option for buying reeds is if you have a private teacher who can make them for you. That way, you can have reeds made specifically for your instrument and the way you play, and you will be used to playing on the style of reed that your teacher uses.

However, having a private teacher who makes oboe reeds is not an option for very many people. If you do not have a private teacher, or your teacher cannot make reeds for you, there are a few other good options for buying reeds.

I would still say the best option is to know the person who is making your reeds, because if you need them changed in any way, you can easily get them fixed or made differently and more personalized.

Other than that, RDG woodwinds and Midwest Musical Imports both sell a wide variety of reeds, mostly handmade by different reedmakers. Forrest’s Music also has some handmade and hand finished reeds. This may require a bit of trial and error, but you very well could find something there that works well for you. Be careful of reeds that are mass-produced and not handmade, off of band instrument websites rather than something that has oboe-specific supplies. These non-handmade reeds will be soft, easy, and rarely provide a good tone, no matter how much you try to fix it.

You can always buy oboe reeds from Amazon as well, but you should make sure that they are of high quality and don’t count on them lasting very long.

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Shoshana graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 2017 with a bachelor’s in music and psychology and is currently earning a certificate in music performance from CMU.