How to break in an oboe reed (how long does it take?)

Reeds for oboe, bassoon, clarinet or saxophone need some time to adjust to their environment and the player. This process is called “ breaking in the reed”.

To break in a reed make sure that the reed is sufficiently soaked. Then simply play on the reed for a few practice sessions letting the reed dry completely in between sessions. The reed will collapse slightly over time, and become more malleable.  This makes the reed, more stable, easier to control and tends to mellow the sound. The reed may take 1-3 days to break in.

Oboe reeds how to soak

If you are using a high quality reed, the reed should crow a C when fully soaked, and it should be responsive. These are the most important qualities of a reed. As you play the reed it should break down slightly and become more comfortable to play. It can be hard to be patient as you break in a reed. 

As the reed breaks in the crow might rise in pitch slightly and the opening may collapse a bit. Hopefully this makes it easier to play for long periods. 

  Gradually breaking in your reed will give you the best results, but we will discuss some tricks to quickly get your reed broken in later in this post. I recommend you have a few extra reeds of various stages of reed-life so you are not backed into a corner for breaking a reed in. 

Steps to break in a reed

 

  • Soak the reed for 1-2 minutes. 
  • Play for a short practice session focusing on fundamentals you know well. (Scales, long tones) 
  • Let the reed dry outside of the case for about 15-20min. 
  • Keep the reed in the case for storage
  • Soak the reed again and play for longer practice sessions or rehearsals. 
  • Repeat for 2-3 days and the reed should feel great. 

 

 

How long should I soak my reed? And other soaking issues.

As you soak the reed it will expand. Soaking the reed for more than a few minutes can cause the cane to expand too much leaving the reed flat, stoggy, and resistant. I recommend soaking reeds for between 1-2 minutes in a small cup or shot glass of water. 

I do not recommend soaking reeds in your mouth because this promotes bacterial growth which will diminish the life of the reed. I have an article on how to extend the life of your reed which you can find by clicking here. 

Reeds need to be soaked again every hour or so of playing depending on the climate where you are playing, so plan accordingly. 

how to soak oboe reeds
Soak oboe reeds in a container of fresh water

Breaking in reeds in a hurry (How to break in a reed fast)

Breaking in a reed is slow and requires patience. Sometimes, you just don’t have that kind of time. You can speed up the process by practicing a few times a day and letting the reed dry out completely in between sessions. Even just playing for half an hour each time and letting the reed dry for another half our in between sessions can be enough to get the reed broken in in as little as a day. A sample schedule may look like this: 

  1. Soak the reed and practice for half an hour
  2. Let the reed dry completely (30-min-1 hour)
  3. Repeat step one and repeat the pattern 3 or four times. 

 

Hopefully this leaves your reed feeling great in just a couple of sessions. If you feel comfortable with a reed knife you can even make slight adjustments each time which will further speed up the breaking in process for your reed. If you have any tips or tales about reeds Id love to read them in the comments, Good Luck out there!

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