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.
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.
What Is Resistance?
- Oboe Reed Resistance = amount of energy needed to make the reed vibrate
- The greater the oboe reed resistance the more energy that is needed to create vibrations.
How is an oboe reed like a windmill? The more we think about them the more our heads spin.
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.