What side of the oboe reed faces up?
This question was asked on Quora and I took a moment to answer it. Ultimatly I think it to be about oboe reed articulation, but the question got me thinking a little deeper anout the topic.
This my sixth year playing oboe, but I’ve always wondered if I was placing the reed correctly in my mouth. If I were to flip the reed over in my mouth, would that create an important difference in sound? Is there a harder side I should be placing on my upper or lower lip?”
“There is often one blade that is slightly longer on the tradition American, long scrape reed, reed makers will intentionally make one blade longer to help with articulation. The longer blade should be on top and the shorter blade on the bottom lip. I make the longer blade on the side opposite to my thread overlap for consistency and easy identification of what side should be up and which down. This is likely dependent on the individual reed maker though and is not universal.”
Why does blade length affect oboe reed articulation?
I have been doing more reflection on this topic and feel there is more to be said here in regard to why this helps with articulation. I learned to make one blade slightly longer from my teacher, but the topic has also come up in different conversations I have had over the years. Like everything else in oboe reed making and playing there are different traditions, and preferences which are of personal choice. Making one blade slightly longer is another of these topics where there will exist different schools of thought.
I believe this tradition may come from the Philadelphia school of playing and reed making. The oboe is usually held closer to the body in the Philidelphia school than other schools of playing. I notice a difference in articulation and tone when I make one blade longer.
I believe it changes the articulation of the oboe reed for two reasons. The first has to do with the angle of the oboe and how that relates to reed placement in the mouth and embouchure.
- The angle that the oboe is held predicts how much cane is exposed in the mouth
- One blade begins vibrating slightly sooner than the other which gives easier articulation.
Oboe angle, oboe reed style, and tradition
I observe that many European players tend to hold the oboe away from the body at an angle closer to being perpendicular to the body. I see many great European oboists holding their oboes at a 70-90 degree angle , where I would say the angle I hold my oboe and other American oboists to be around 45 degrees between the body and oboe.
The first picture shows my regular playing position, which is similar to oboists like Marcel Tabuteau, or Richard Woodhams , where the second picture shows the larger angle that I see many European oboists holding their oboes. Google Albrecht Mayer, Nicholas Daniel and Heinz Holliger to learn what I mean. There are plenty of pictures on the internet showing the oboists mentioned if you care to search for more pictures.
There are obviously many different variations in between these two pictures but I feel these show the description of the angle between body and oboe that I am trying to highlight. The first angle is shared by many oboists from the Philadelphia school, which is also a school of reed making that benefits from clipping one blade slightly longer. The smaller angle between the oboe and body makes the bottom blade of the reed slightly more exposed within the mouth.
Further thoughts on oboe reed blade length
My intuition tells me that clipping one blade slightly shorter than the other helps with oboe reed articulation because it compensates for the amount of reed exposed in the mouth. Since the oboe reed is not inserted into the mouth at a perfect right angle the bottom blade will be slightly more exposed within the mouth. Clipping one blade slightly shorter helps to compensate for the difference in exposure within the mouth. I hypothesize that the larger the angle that the oboe is held the less need for a difference in blade length. This accounts for why this is a somewhat standard practice within certain schools and not others.
I suggest experimenting with clipping one blade of the cane slightly shorter than the other if you have any trouble with articulation. It may not solve all your problems related to articulation, however, it may bring improvement. Happy oboe-ing