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Understanding Oboe Reed Resistance

The term “resistance” is one we oboists all know well in practice, but can struggle slightly when it comes to describing what the term actually refers to. What causes resistance? how can I understand what affects the level of resistance in oboe reeds ? how can know what is causing the oboe reed resistance? These are questions I have asked myself over the years, and come to understand resistance within oboe reeds as complicated. We all know what a resistant reed feel like, but to understand what is causing the resistance can be more perplexing.

Like everything in oboe reed making,  finding the right resistance in an oboe reed is a skill of balance. We must find the correct balance of resistance for our body, and our specific instrument. My goal in this article is to begin students on a path to understanding resistance in oboe reeds. This is a big topic to unload, so please feel free to let me know what I can clarify in the comments section.

Resistance and “The Big Three” qualities of oboe reed making

I have started to discuss some of the concepts I find to be very important in oboe reed making in past posts, with hopes of providing interested parties with a conceptual framework of how to make and think about oboe reeds. Oboe reed making is a simple process on the surface, but can become very complicated when trying provide others with  a conceptual understanding. Having a strong conceptual framework will ultimately make us all better reed makers, and oboists.

 I believe it is helpful to think about reed making as a  hierarchy of skills and ideas. “The Big Three” sit at the top of that hierarchy. “the big three” are resistance, response, and intonation or pitch.  Resistance is one of the most important concepts to understand.

The Big Three

What Is Resistance?

re·sist·ance
-the ability not to be affected by something, especially adversely.
The primary function of an oboe reed is to vibrate. The air we push through the reed causes the internal pressure of the reed to change  and affect the opening of the reed. The structure of the reed makes the reed spring back. A cycle of opening and closing causes vibrations to move through the air. These vibrations are interpreted by the ear as noise. The air causes motion (vibration), the motion vibrates the air in the room and is interpreted as sound.
The resistance is related to how much the reed is affected by the air we push through it; how much vibration  is created by our air being pushed through the reed.
We may think of resistance in oboe reeds  as a sort of equation;
  • Oboe Reed Resistance = amount of energy needed to make the reed vibrate
                                        Or
  • The greater the oboe reed resistance the more energy that is needed to create vibrations.
We may think of the energy being transferred from the air ,within our bodies, to the reed. This is similar to other machines and systems we can imagine. The visual I like to think of is a Windmill. The energy from the air/wind is transferred to the windmill and creates motion. The energy from wind/air is transferred into motion in both the reed and windmill to create two different sorts of motion. One motion is spinning, one is vibrating, but they are both cycles.
Both systems need to be engineered to work as efficiently as possible. They are made to work with the amount of energy that will be available to them.
 An oboe reed that needs more air than can be comfortably provided is like a butterfly trying to turn a windmill with its wings.  A reed that requires less air pressure than is being provided will over work the system creating excess pressure within the body. This is called overblowing.

How is an oboe reed like a windmill? The more we think about them the more our heads spin.

To my physicist readers out there, you may be thinking  “come on Aaron, comparing oboe reeds to a windmill is a bit of a stretch”. I am going to keep stretching.
I am not making the case that the two work exactly the same or that the forces at work are exactly the same. I do feel there are certain advantages to comparing a basic observation of the forces, at least my lay-persons understanding.
The ideas we gain about oboe reed resistance is mostly formed by sensations in the body. The resistance of a windmill can be understood and observed visually. We cannot see the resistance in an oboe reed system  at work. We can visualize and easily conceptualize  the resistance of the windmill system.
 
I should also state that if there is anyone with an exact understanding of the forces at work within oboe reeds please do feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!
The energy in the case of oboe reed is our wind/air. The motion that is caused by our air being pushed through a reed can be related to the motion caused by wind moving past the  windmill blades.
 The air/wind moves by the blades of the windmill and causes the rotor to move. The air moving through the reed causes the blades to move.
 The greater the  resistant that the  windmill provides, the greater amount of air pressure and volume that must be used.  A small amount of air at a very high pressure will not turn the windmill. A large volume of air at a low pressure will also not turn the windmill. The more resistance acting against the movement , the more volume, and pressure that is needed to move it.
Oboe reed resistance is similar. The greater the resistance within a reed, the more air pressure and volume that is needed to make it function. There are no judgments of whether resistance is good or bad, it is simply an objective measurement at this point. Resistence= Volume and Pressure needed to function optimally within a system.

What Causes Resistance?

There can be several causes of resistance within any system.   Let us look at the windmill  and the oboe reed  separately.  This is my own  intuition about pressure, air volume, and the way they work within a system.

Some of The variables affecting the resistance of a windmill-

  • the size of the windmill. Pinwheel vs wind turbine
  • Shape of the blades. Shaped to be most affected by the wind
  • the angles of the blades. Blades must be positioned to transfer energy from the wind to the windmill. Blades that are not angled properly will be inefficient.
  • the weight of the blades. the materials used will increase or decrease resistance. Heavier, more dense materials will provide more resistance.
  • Resistance from friction between the moving parts. The more energy that is transferred the more resistance within the system. A windmill with no resistance will not be converting as much energy.

Some possible variables affecting oboe reed resistance

  • The size of the reed opening.  This is determined by a few things, oboe reed shape (shaper tip used) and also the diameter of cane, staple etc. I think it is best to  relate this to the size of the internal dimension of the reed.
  • The Slope/angle of the blend from tip to heart
  • The Material the reed  is made from. Qualities of the cane if you like;  density, flexibility, cellular structure. This is worth an article on its own.
  • The Overall thickness of cane at different points. Skeletal structure. Spine, back, heart and tip. I will include gouge here too.
  • Resistance from embouchure (hinders vibration)
  • The Size of staple opening. More open means more air flow. More air flow in the reed can mean more resistance because the reed will have less pressure inside. This relates back to internal dimensions of the reed in some ways.

I personally see a lot of overlap between the two energy transfers; wind to the windmill, or  wind to the  oboe reed. The goal here is not to say the exact same process is happening. The goal is to draw a comparison and see where we can gain a deeper understanding of concepts.

How do  we change the oboe reed resistance?

Changing any of the variables listed above has the potential to change the oboe reed resistance. Knowing which variable to change can only be addressed on a case by case basis with each reed. Each reed maker will notice their own patterns after a while and be able to address the tendencies. I will write more about adjusting oboe reeds at a later time and include some strategies for reducing or increasing resistance. Subscribe to the mailing list to keep up to date on all articles.

Like most things in oboe playing and oboe reed making there is not a one size fits all answer to any question. We can not say what the absolute correct balance of resistance is within an oboe reed. Discovering what works best for each oboist takes a lot of experience, experimentation, knowledge and conceptual understanding. No amount of description will ever substitute practice but it sure can help.  Happy Oboe-ing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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oboe reed resistance.
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oboe reed resistance is a concept every oboist must explore and come to understand. Finding the correct balance of resistance for the individual oboist's set up can be a challenge. This article makes understanding oboe reed resistance slightly easier.
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http://aaronlakota.com/
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