Reeds – Part 3 of 1000

Dear Mr. Friedland,

I have an ongoing struggle with my clarinet (and saxophone) reeds. It seems that most of them will not maintain a nice, flat surface while playing. I keep the reeds in a LaVoz “reed guard’, that keeps them flat while they dry. But once I start to play, it takes 5 to 15 minutes and the reed starts to lose contact with my mouthpiece. When that happens, the instrument becomes harder to blow, and I either start biting or the sound just stops coming out. I usually use the Vandoren V12 / V16 reeds, but also try others in an attempt to avoid this problem. I believe the problem is caused by the fatter part of the reed swelling as it absorbs moisture, but I have also noticed the overall shape of the reed becomes irregular. (I take it off to examine it when this happens). I have tried soaking the reeds for extended periods, soaking only the tips, not soaking at all, fine sandpaper on the flat side, and cutting grooves into the base of the reeds to allow them to expand. Nothing has proved a permanent solution. Usually I can switch to a metal ligature and tighten it down to get the reed to behave, but this restricts the freedom of the reed. (I prefer to play with a Rovner ligature.) Since this problem follows different reeds, mouthpieces and instruments, my conclusion is that there is something I am doing incorrectly in handling or preparing the reeds. In my discussions with other players, most have not seen or heard of a similar problem. Is there anything I can try to address this problem? Thanks.

P.S.. In case it is important, my set up is a Selmer 10G, Blayman mpc, Rovner ligature

Hi Bill! Sorry to have waited so long to respond … I thought I was up to date, but you have proven I am not.

My feeling is that life is much too short for you to have to have such agony with your reeds.

I also think I know what tone problem is, not having heard or seen you play … your mouthpiece has got to be warped in some way, or the table has a curve in it, which some players really like, and your embouchure may not be able to accommodate the thing; that is to say, the curve. I know, it is difficult to tell, not having heard or seen you play … seen you play? Yes, that’s right, for some players players twist their shoulders and/or their bodies into strange shapes when they play which pushes the thumb up into your face and might just give you difficulty.

Now, I am not saying that your particular make or facing is bad. I am saying that it may be warped, which would cause such difficulty.

One other thing that could be the problem: something you are saying is bothering me … You do not allow reeds to dry in a reedguard. If it is metal the moisture can cause the metal to pit, if it is plastic it is not straight. The best thing to do is not to allow them to dry in the reedguard, but first, prior to putting them in the guard, dry them as thoroughly as you can between your thumb and forefinger (gently man, gently!!!!!) then slip them (gently man, gently) into the reedguard without forcing them in as if you were trying to jack up your automobile with them … easy on the reeds …

When you’re trying reeds, only try three at a time. Don’t ask why, just do what I tell you (this is supposed to be amusing, but it is serious) … You see, reeds … Reeds drive you crazy. How many reeds do you think your embouchure and your ear can stand before you are up loons way … Not many, Jack … So only try three … No, just three.

If you can find three that work, put them away … Not in a guard, but in a box where you know where they are … They are drying out themselves and curing themselves as well.

Try them in two or three days. They will play completely differently, either because you cannot remember or because you or the weather has changed or you had a taco salad for lunch. Never have a taco salad before you try reeds … look what happened to Pancho Villa (former first clarinet in the Zapatarata orchestra). Anyway put them away again. Try another three reed and put them away with the first group of three. You now have six reeds that may play, or played, or may sometime play … maybe … Are you beginning to get the point?????

Don’t try a whole box of anything. (I did this for years with Oreo cookies which is why I am diabetic Just a few of the reeds at a time … please!

A long time ago when I had my lesson on Saturday with Mazzeo I used to go through five boxes of VD (that is what I called them; they were worse than venereal disease) and that is when there were 25 in a box and they cost 3.75 a box … and Mrs. Sternberg liked me, so she gave me them frequently for nothing.

I would always come up with something, but it was always difficult in front of the master class to act cool and stuff when you had not slept the night before.

Anyway, Bill, what I am trying to say in this long-winded manner is that you’ve a problem … Maybe it’s the mouthpiece’s time to be change or refaced, or dumped … really hard to say … but I think that perhaps you are doing too many things at once to try to keep your reeds playing, especially when one of the things one does is to really take your time … take your time … and wait for results after doing a something … before getting pissed or dragged or whatever the way in which you vent your spleen …

I remember those Saturday master classes so very well, and will end with another anecdote. There was a colleague of mine, his name is Harry. He would come in from an all-night gig on saxophone in his tuxedo with the tie untied in a rakish manner … full tux, right?

He would put the clarinet down on the rug, smile, adjust the stand … by then the clarinet was swinging back and forth because Harry after no sleep did not have the balance to balance the thing on the rug. We would be ready to catch the thing … then he would finally get everything straight, take the instrument and realize that the mouthpiece was at a terrible angle. He would straighten it and the reed would get dislodged. By this time we were all completely out of control and Mazzeo was laughing himself … then Harry would try to play and nothing would come out. The reed was dry, all he played was tenor on the gig, so what he said one morning which is the way to end this long report was “Man!!!!! Drag of all drags!!!!” Usually there was an explosion of laughter … and it is pleasant to remember those days so many years ago.

You take care, and good luck in all your endeavors. There has got to be something here you can use … go slow … and yes, rest your chops, always, especially when playing or trying to play … with reeds


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