oboe reed response introduction


Oboe Reed Response; a great reed starts with great response…

Have you ever had one of those days where your tongue is pecking away at the oboe reed, working as hard as it can, and your articulations still sound slow or sloppy? Well, your reed may have response issues. Don’t worry, by recognizing the oboe reed response issues you are already on your way to happier reeds. Wow… that sounds like the start of some new prescription drug commercial.

Response, resistance, and intonation are “The Big Three” qualities that sit at the top of a conceptual hierarchy of oboe reed making for me.  I feel these three qualities are the most important qualities to assess and understand in oboe reeds. I feel  that by understanding response, resistance, and intonation within oboe reeds, we build an understanding of  the function of oboe reeds. I think that  once the concepts are understood oboe reeds may be made and adjusted to suit the oboists needs with more control.

Understanding what this word “response” or “responding” or any other variation of the word is referring to is the first step in knowing how to improve it. We must recognize that we want to change something before it will every happen. I hope to provide readers with some insights into my own understanding of the word response and what it refers to in oboe reed making. I cannot give you any experience, but I can share the  knowledge I have obtained through my experience. This information is in no way a substitute for “hands on” oboe reed making, but it may help provide inspiration for the oboist looking to further develop their own conceptual understanding of oboe reed function.


What is response

As described by a google search;

Response -a reaction to something

Responsive– reacting quickly and positively.

I subscribe to the belief that the primary function of the oboe reed is to vibrate. That’s right, they are not here  to make us frustrated. The vibrations from the reed are amplified by the instrument’s body and create vibrations in the air. The vibrations in the air are interpreted by our ears as sound.

what is oboe reed response?

The measurement of Response in an oboe reeds  is; how quickly the oboe  reed reacts to the air within the system of the reed, oboe, and oboist. Or; How quickly the energy is transferred from the air to the reed.

oboe reed response vs resistance

There is often confusion between oboe reed response and oboe reed resistance. I have written a little bit about how “the big three” can affect other qualities either due to player preference, unrecognized habits, or limited reed making skills. Resistance and response are related within the dynamic system at work within the oboe reed and oboist’s body, but they are qualities that can be clearly delineated as well.

I like to think of the resistance of oboe reeds as the amount of air pressure that is needed for the reed to vibrate optimally. I think of the resistance as a constant average of how much pressure needs to be created within the body system to make the reed work.  Essentially it is a transfer of energy from our body to the air, to the reed, therefore resistance is the measurement of how much energy is needed to make the reed vibrate.

The Response of the oboe reed is not a measurement of how much energy is needed, but how quickly the reed reacts to the energy that is present within the system. Resistance is related to the amount of energy needed to make oboe reeds vibrate, the response is related to ease of transference of energy  through the reed. 

How do we measure and oboe reed’s response?

I make oboe reeds primarily by the crow of the oboe reed. The crow allows me to build the function into the reed away from the control of the embouchure. There are many different ideas out there as far as how an oboist should make reeds. I am certainly not making the case that all oboist should make reeds by the crow, but it is my method and therefore everything I present on this blog will in some way biased.  I assess the response by how softly the initial first octave  “C natural” comes into the crow of the reed. I talk briefly about crowing the reed in the  article “oboe reeds for beginners“. There are a few sound clips of me crowing a reed in that article and I breifly describe the crow. I will write more on this topic at a later time and also  how I asses “the big three” with the crow and adjust the reed according to that.

Method to evaluate oboe reed response

I will present a method to evaluate the response of a reed without using the crow for those oboists that would prefer to use a different method. Here is what I do while I am evaluating a reed while playing it.

  1. Play a G natural at a dynamic level of forte “F”  with a full supported tone.
  2. Take note of the feeling of support in the body, and the embouchure placement.
  3. with the same level of support and embouchure start the note again but without the tongue and with a small amount of air.  simply let the air move through the reed, do not help it in any way.
  4. progressively push more and more volume of air through the reed. The support should be fully engaged even with a small amount of air
  5. keep pushing more air until the reed speaks. Hold that air stream.
  6. at what dynamic level did the note speak? was it PP? FF?
  7. Take note of the embouchure, did your feel a desire to close the embouchure to help the reed speak? was it able to remain loose as when you played loud?
  • A reed that speaks softly and without much embouchure manipulation can be evaluated as very responsive.
  • A reed that speaks at a loud dynamic level can be said to be less responsive.

A reed can be very resistant and still be very responsive. A reed may require a lot of air pressure and air volume to speak, but it may still speak very softly without any change in embouchure. A reed can also be very easy to play but not respond at a soft dynamic level. I find a lot of mass produced student reeds fit into this category.

the Response is not only an evaluation of the initial attack dynamic but in my experience, this test will tell you how the reed will function beyond the dynamics.


What qualities of oboe playing does oboe reed response affect?

I usually feel that the major playing qualities that response can affect are; articulation, dynamic contrast, and connection of notes. At a deeper level than just these three qualities, I would make the case that oboe reed response has the potential to affect anything that has to do with “change” in the system. A change in articulation, a change in dynamics, a change in pitch, a change in register, a change in intensity et cetera. Here is my practical list of what oboe reed response affects

  • How smoothly notes can be articulated without changing the embouchure or support
  • How easily notes in the extremes of the registers will articulate and speak
  • how much dynamic control the oboe reed will allow
  • how easily notes will jump octaves
  • ease of phrasing  related to direction/intensity/energy (I often use all three words interchangeably)
  • how easily  notes will connect and change in legato passages
  • how easily the ends of phrases can be tapered.

Anytime the vibrations within the reed need to change for any reason the response of the reed determines the ease at which the reed will carry out that action.

What variables affect oboe reed response

Variables affecting response:

  • The Thickness of the very tip
  • The thickness of the very tip related to sides of the tip
  • Inconsistencies in the tip
  • Size of the reed opening
  • The symmetry between the two blades of the reed
  • The symmetry between the two halves of each blade
  • balance from  tip to heart
  • Shape of the reed
  • Leaks on the side of the reed
  • Staple opening and thickness

Transfer of energy from air to vibration.

I always like to think of oboe reeds and reed making as a sort of engineering exercise. I am not an engineer in any traditional sense, but I like to hypothesize about why reeds work the way they do. I feel trying to predict how something I do  will change the function it builds a stronger conceptual framework. I still feel like I do not have a complete idea what I am doing, I am just a mad scientist hacking away at reeds laughing maniacally while I do it…

Personal oboe ramble
That last comment makes me think about oboist locked away in their reed room, working on some secret formula for the perfect oboe reed.  I was out with an oboist friend and a couple of flutist friends. We got to the topic of instrument and personality stereotypes. One of the flutists was talking about oboists being antisocial, and never wanting to be around other people. The other oboist and I said in unison, “that’s not true”. We both got up and walked out because we didn’t want to visit anymore…..  That was a joke, but the conversation actually did happen, with that group of people. After some time reflecting on that I realized that perhaps I could be perceived that way. We oboists can spend hours locked up in our practice rooms and reed rooms searching for some positive results. I like to think that we do it from a place of love for the process, and not from some antisocial disposition. I don’t want to talk about it.  The moral of this story is that sometimes we just need to get our mad scientist out and laugh maniacally… I am bad at stories. 

The place where all vibrations start within an oboe reed, or any other reed, is the tip. The tip of the reed is, or should be, the thinnest part. The vibrations start there and are transferred into the heart and the rest of the reed. I encourage students to think about the role of the tip of the oboe reed. The vibrations start there, therefore if the tip is not functioning properly, the rest of the reed has not hope to work well.

 You will become a better oboe reed maker by asking questions. Why aren’t my oboe reeds responding? why aren’t my oboe reeds working properly

We can take a step back to our engineering of oboe reed, think about how vibrations can move from something that is very thin, to something that is a bit thicker (the heart of an oboe reed). what could hold those vibrations back? what could help them to be transferred ? I feel that thinking in terms of questions  is always a helpful tool in evaluating and making oboe reeds.

  • why aren’t the vibrations starting more easily?
  • Why isn’t my oboe reed responding?
  • why can’t I play softly?
  • why don’t my low notes articulate well?
  • why am I having trouble connecting notes?
  • How can I solve the problems?
  • how can I make great oboe reeds and play my best?

The answer might not be known at the moment by the student, but by stepping back and not getting overly frustrated the oboist will have a better chance of objectively assessing the function to find a solution. Eventually, the answers to the questions asked will become apparent. I feel that by developing a conceptual understanding we oboists and  oboe reed makers  will have more control over the problems presented to us in oboe reeds.

The take away about oboe reed response

  • Difference between response and resistance
  • learn to assess your oboe reeds in terms of how responsive they are.
  • learn to assess your oboe playing problems and how they relate to the response of your reeds
  • Could you play more beautifully with more responsive oboe reeds?
  • The vibrations start in the tip. Evaluate your tips visually; make em look purdy and symmetrical
  • Objectively look at the response problems in your reeds and try to understand what is causing them.
  • start building a conceptual framework for what affects response and how it affects your oboe playing.

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Happy oboe-ing

oboe reed response introduction
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oboe reed response introduction
Professional oboe reed maker Aaron Lakota introduces students to oboe reed response. He presents his definition of the term response and how to assess oboe reeds in terms of response. Readers will be informed how oboe reed response affects oboe playing. Be happy oboe-ing
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