On communicable diseases and buying reeds

With the current hysteria level related to COVID-19 coronavirus, and two cases reported in my home state of Minnesota, I wanted to write up a little on my process for handling reeds in general. I hope this alleviates some concerns some customers might have about buying reeds from me. I have a compromised immune system myself, so I am hyper-aware of the concern for spreading disease.

First, I NEVER take reeds back from a customer once they have been sold. I would not play on a returned reed myself, and would not expect anyone else to. So rest assured, any reeds you get from me have only ever been handled by me, and me alone. Nobody assists me in my reed making.

I do play test the reeds before I sell them. This means they have been in my mouth. It’s the only way any professional reed maker can confirm that the reeds they sell to the customer are any good! This does mean I take some precautions though, to make sure my customers are safe from anything potentially communicable. I never work on reeds (even handling cane) for my customers when I am feeling any symptoms of illness. Every new step of the reed making process has fresh water in a cleaned container, so there is little chance of cross contamination.

After I have finished a reed it goes into a bath of water and high concentration isopropyl alcohol. The sonic cleaner runs for about 2-3 minutes. This effectively sanitizes the reeds as much as I can without ruining the cane. I wash my hands before rinsing these reeds and putting them on the drying rack to dry overnight. I also wash my hands before I pack the reeds in their tube vials.

These are steps I have always taken when preparing reeds for customers, not any kind of special treatment now due to the global outbreak of COVID-19 or this season’s very high levels of influenza cases.

Taking a short break from reed making, surgical recovery

My customers are awesome, and I’m so happy you like the reeds I make for you. Unfortunately I have to have surgery related to my cancer treatment that will make me unable to make reeds for most of the month of December.

So I will continue to take orders until Sunday, November 27, after which point I will disable bassoon and contrabassoon reed orders until I am able to play again, probably after Christmas. Any orders placed will be shipped by December 8 (the actual day of surgery).

I can still fulfill orders for pickups, Ozi caprice sheet music, and scale cards through December.

Benefits of randomized practice, and how to apply this to your scales!

When I was an undergrad I drilled my scales every day. Every practice began with 36 scales; every major, harmonic minor, and melodic minor. At first, I did this the way most people do: by reading from a scale sheet that probably went in order of increasing flats and then increasing sharps. Or it was by going around the circle of fifths. In whatever way, the pattern was always the same, increasing in difficulty generally, and probably not spending enough time on the minor scales.

Sound like you?

There’s a better way to practice scales that I figured would be a good idea, and my second year of undergrad I upped the game and started playing the scales in a random order. After all, in my jury I wouldn’t know what scale they would ask for, and I had to be able to play whatever scale they asked without working my way up to it first. So some days I started on C or F major, and other days it was E-flat minor. I took an old deck of cards and wrote the scale names on them, shuffled the deck, and then played through the deck.

It turns out my idea was sound, and studies have confirmed that this kind of practicing strategy can really improve performance in the real world. It certainly helped me on my juries.

So now I have designed and had professionally printed decks of cards specifically for this purpose. The Daily Scales cards promote practicing your scales in a random order, mixing minor and major scales, and making sure you get to all of them each time you practice. The deck can make sure you keep your practicing organized!

Here are some ideas for how you can use the deck:

  • Shuffle and play through the deck, the simplest way to use the cards. You can play whatever range you need, and whatever pattern, and you’re guaranteed to get all of the scales exactly once.
  • Shuffle and play some cards, then practice an etude, and the deck will be there for you with remaining cards for later in practice. This mixes up the random scales much like the BPM article above mentions to do, and again makes sure you get all the scales exactly once.
  • Use them for arpeggio studies
  • Jazz musicians: use them for ii-V-I turnaround patterns in all keys (use melodic minor as a TT sub option and harmonic minor as the regular in-key chords)
  • Separate the scales you need more work on, and go back to those in an organized way.

The deck is professionally printed and the material construction is great. The cards aren’t sticky at all so they shuffle really easily. They’re the same size as a standard card deck and should fit easily in your instrument case.

Order here!

Upcoming new products!

Daily Scales randomized scale practice card deck! I’m still working out pricing for the initial run of these cards.

New edition of the Ozi 42 Caprices With a duet part!!! I’m in the final stages of getting these done. The music is ready, still getting printing and publishing details worked out. I’ve completely re-type-set the original Caprices and included dynamic markings, measure numbers, and new layout. The duet part was the big reason I did this, and I’m very happy with the end result.

I’ll be selling both through my website, and will also try to get these to prominent double reed retailers for your convenience.

What to expect from my reeds, breaking in, and adjustment strategies.

I’ve had a number of new customers lately since GoBassoon had to retire from reed making. With new customers comes new questions so I thought I would make a kind of FAQ about my reeds, what they are like, my normal adjustment suggestions, and what my philosophy is regarding how a bassoon reed should function.

First, what are my reeds like? My goal for reeds is to make a vibrant and free blowing reed, that’s especially easy in the low register without compromising the ability to play very high notes. While most players enjoy the volume and power that comes with my design, a few find my reeds overly bright for their tastes or bassoon. You should know that I typically play test the reeds a minimal amount, and they will change as you play on them.

Reeds too soft?

So what should you expect when breaking in the reeds? You may find that at first the reeds might be softer than you are used to from other reeds, especially more commercial and mass produced ones. I have found that most reeds, “off the shelf”, are considerably harder than what I like. I also know that the cane will stiffen up as you play on the reed, the most in the first hour of playtime, but for a few hours more you’ll see a little more change. So if the E3 pitch is sagging for you when you first try the reed, you can probably get it to be stable with less force to the reed, but eventually if you play on it (practice scales or do long tones on it) for a while you’ll notice the E becomes more stable, and the low register will tighten up a bit as well. Slurring across octaves will be easier and the tone color will tamper down a bit.

Sometimes a little softness or flabbiness can be caused by a 2nd wire that got a little loose as the reed settled in. With your pliers (and with a long mandrel in the reed) pull the wire tight and twist counter-clockwise to pull out any slack.

But what if it’s not just the E that sags, but also the C-sharp or D!? Sometimes, depending on how you blow and what your bassoon is like, a reed will arrive too soft even after a break in period. At that point, you’ll see that another advantage of sending reeds that are lighter in the scrape and on the soft side, is that if the reed needs to be adjusted it’s usually by clipping the tip. This is probably the easiest adjustment, after wire adjustments. Trim the reed .5mm and see if it then responds the way you like in the middle of the bassoon range. You can probably go as far as 1.5mm shorter if it’s actually really soft for you, but any more than that and weird things will happen to the resonance of the reed. If I sent reeds that are too hard, you would have to know where and how much to scrape, which is a harder skill to learn.

So to summarize:
1. The reeds will be brighter at first, and will darken over a little break-in period on scales or long tones.
2. Check the tightness of the 2nd wire when the reed is totally soaked up. If you can pull a lot of slack out of it, tighten it up and see if that does the trick.
3. If the reed doesn’t hold the E after a break-in period, trim .5mm at a time until it’s stable, up to 1.5mm total.

Reeds too hard?

If you find the reed is a bit stuffy, especially after a while of breaking it in, you’ll need to do some scraping, probably. You can always start by adjusting the roundness/flatness of the first wire.

Look at the reed with a light shining behind it and see if the back 1/2 of the reed (closest to the wire) is significantly darker than the rest of the reed. If so, lightly sand with 400 grit sand paper or use a file across that entire dark area. Taking off just a tiny little bit! A little will go a long way with this.

If the back 1/2 isn’t significantly different in shade than the “heart” of the reed, you can actually feel safe removing material from the heart. I use a knife for this, but sandpaper or file will remove more broadly but less at a time, so it might be safer.

Summer vacation, and temporary hiatus

I am going on vacation and immediately upon returning I am having carpal tunnel surgery on both of my wrists. I have currently sold out of my current stock of reeds and will not be able to make more until late August at the earliest. I am not taking orders at this time. Please feel free to contact me if you would like me to let you know when I am making reeds again so you know when you can place an order. I appreciate your understanding.

Thank you to all of my loyal customers. I promise to get back to reed making as soon as I am healed from surgery, hopefully in time for fall auditions! I have a bunch of blanks ready to go for finishing.

New digs, office, pandemic related school year, online teaching, and more!

The month of August was a busy one for me. We sold our home in Columbia Heights (Minneapolis) and finally made the move to Eau Claire so I can be closer to my teaching duties. Of course, all of my teaching duties are now all online, as are the classes for my daughter in her new school. My new home office isn’t as large or as dedicated, but we got some better space for the kids to play, and a lovely corner in our living room for musical activities (and is the new home for my bassoon lamp).

So with that said, there was some delay on a few reed orders, and my label printer didn’t survive the move (although the print shop that tried to repair but couldn’t has a replacement for me at a reasonable price). Thank you for those of you that ordered between August 15 and September 1 for your patience.

If anyone happens to read this and is in need of bassoon lessons, hit me up for some online lessons.

Bassoon fingering chart

I made this chart a long time ago but never posted it to my website. Mostly these fingerings are considered standard in the USA, although we all have our own ways of doing things. Especially in the highest register there are multiple options so experiment and consult with a qualified teacher on how to best play notes above B-flat 4.

I made three reeds in under an hour in a livestream

I needed to change my profiler blade, and I needed to test a 2-camera setup for filming my reed making station for online lessons and digital summer camps coming up. The full stream was an hour and I made 3 reeds, although some time was wasted at the beginning getting the stream set up and my first piece of cane turned out to be damaged (I discovered after shaping and profiling). This is not my usual method of making reeds, but it is a very useful method for making something quickly. The only thing that’s missing from the reed is a wrapping, which you can’t do effectively when the reed is this soaked.

The video can be viewed here:

Two summer music making opportunities

This summer I will be coaching and teaching at two music camps at The University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. Each camp is geared towards different age groups and instrument focus:

If you are a high school musician playing oboe or bassoon, join us for the annual week long double reed camp. June 28-July 2. https://www.uwec.edu/blugold-camps/double-reed/

If you are an adult woodwind player (flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone, bassoon) join us for our first ever adult chamber music workshop, July 16-19. https://www.uwec.edu/blugold-camps/music/chamber/