How do you tell if your reed is sharp, flat, or unstable?

Comparing how a reed does play with how a reed should play is the most important guide you have for determining what trim to make on an unfinished reed. There are two simple rules to follow when using fundamentals (scales, long tones, etc.), etudes, or repertoire as diagnostic tools:

  1. Expect to play as you would on a good, finished reed.
  2. Don’t adjust beyond that.

When we sit down at the reed desk, we need to be aware that our support structure is likely to be set up to maximize the potential of the last reed we practiced on. It may or may not have been a good or finished reed, so mindfully beginning again and returning to our default support structure is key. Support structure maintenance requires not only an awareness of how our support structure may have become warped during the daily onslaught of playing on crappy and unfinished reeds, but it also requires deliberate attention and practice on good reeds.

When using a tuner, do your normal embouchure and air result in sharp intonation, observed especially in notes that are neutral (usually in-tune) or tend sharp? If so, proceed down the path for sharp reeds.

When using a tuner and your normal embouchure and air, are notes flat that are usually neutral (in-tune) or have a tendency to be flat? If so, proceed down the path for flat reeds.

When using a tuner, do your normal embouchure and air result in “flarp” intonation (flat and sharp) in various dynamics and between registers of the instrument? This is especially obvious when practicing long tones. If so, proceed down the path for unstable intonation.

The material in this learning module comes from The Banana of Life: Peeling Away the Mysteries of Reed Making for the Bassoon by Rian Craypo and has been edited for clarity by Jessi Vandagriff. Please do not share or distribute this information to those not using the decision-based learning model. Used with permission.

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