I started a brand new student the other day, and for the first time ever we did NOT start directly on the crummy machined reeds from the store. Usually kids come to me after they have had some band experience, and I usually let them stay on their Leshers or Emeralds for a few months before we talk about moving up to hand-made reeds. A brand new oboist is going to sound pretty rough anyway, and it’s easier to have them grasp the concepts of blowing and fingering if they’re not struggling to produce sound as well. After the kazoos they’ve been playing on, the greater resistance in my reeds feels like a big adjustment to make.
But I had recently read this blog post, by a friend of mine, and I was thinking about having good resistance and stability to work with, and I thought, Why not? Why not start out right, right away?
This new student of mine was literally holding a reed for the first time ever, and I made her a nice easy one, and we played some matching-pitch games and talked about rolling in and out – and when she put it on the oboe – for the first time ever – she sounded…good. I was stunned and delighted.
Yes, we still talked about air, and support, and long tones. We still had to do some listening and singing and adjusting to make the pitch good. But I have never had a very young student sound so pleasant, so fast.
On that hand-made reed, customized for her, she could blow safely without the sound going all nuts. She didn’t have to manipulate pitch by biting. She didn’t have to search for the elusive balance point between getting no sound and overblowing. She didn’t have to hold the leaky sides of a mass-produced reed together with all the strength of her jaw muscles. And she had immediate success.
Now, I don’t necessarily promote buying expensive hand-made reeds for a student that is not working with an experienced teacher. The advantage of those store-bought reeds is that they are easy to get sound out of, right away, in the same way that a party noisemaker is. A student can have a degree of success promptly, even working alone or with a band director who doesn’t know much about the oboe. There’s a usefulness to the beginner reeds.
But that said, I LOVE my new student, who sounds great on my reeds right away. And I love that she’s soon going to be the best sounding sixth grader in her entire band.