So what’s it take to really practice effectively?

Michael Lowenstern knows.

This video is done in the same kind of vein as my reed making video I made a few years ago. After presenting the finished product, Michael shows an unfiltered (although sped up to avoid absolute boredom from the audience) glimpse into his practice method when working up a difficult passage. With the clock displayed clearly for all to see, he works up a passage using a metronome and builds the tempo close to performance level. It’s a bit more than 30 minutes of him practicing and shows beautifully what 30 minutes of focused, intense, and correct practice looks like.

Students of all ages should watch this. This guy does it right.

Better Do It Right (Northern Darling)


Lyrics by Liz Davis
Music by Liz Davis, James Mouritsen, Trent Jacobs

Performed on James and Ben’s porch last autumn.

I’m using the TC Helicon Voicelive 3 for harmonies (all bassoon audio is from the Little-Jake).

UWEC Summer Double Reed week!

Dr. Christa Garvey and I will be hosting a double reed week this summer,¬†July 18-22, 2016. The camp will have separate sections for adults and high school level players, with a specific focus on reed making as well as the usual masterclasses, ensemble playing, and other playing activities. Use the UWEC double reed department reed making equipment including a full set of Reeds ‘n’ Stuff processing machines. Cane is included with cost of tuition but we’ll request you have some of your own finishing tools.

More importantly, we want to know what YOU want to get out of the camp! So when you register, we’ve made a questionnaire that will allow us to tailor the session’s content to meet your needs and desires! More details and the registration form is here:

We’ve done everything we can to keep this as affordable as possible. We’re pretty sure you can’t get a better deal than this. ūüėČ

Dremel tool beveling of the bassoon reed

In my never-ending quest to make my reed making more time efficient, I have switched my beveling technique for my regular reeds. I still let them form on the mandrel and bevel dry, but now instead of using a file for the first step of beveling, I use a Dremel tool with a sandpaper bit.

This removes the bulk of the material that I want to get rid of below the 2nd wire area and does it really fast especially when I have three dozen reeds to do at a time. The cut it leaves is really rough and uneven, but it smooths out really well on the second stage of the beveling where I sand the edge off the entire interior section using a flat block and sand paper.

“Tupperware” (Legere) reeds

Three years ago (give or take) plastics company Legere introduced a synthetic bassoon reed at the IDRS conference. There have been plastic reeds for years, my band director in high school in the 90’s tried to get me to play on plastic ones then, probably the Fox Renard reeds, but they were always notoriously bad. Flat, impossible response in the extreme registers, and they would frequently split down the middle. Anyway, Legere has made respectable single reeds for decades, and finally discovered a way of making polypropylene bassoon reeds that worked marginally well.

They were, of course, all the rage at that conference. Reeds you can’t adjust!? Of course I’ll take 6! Oh, they’re $135 each? Nevermind.

I played on a a few and found they played OK. They had three strengths then, “soft” “medium” and “hard”. I was told “you’ll hate the hard reeds” which was pretty untrue. They were a bit hefty to handle with the embouchure, but not terrible. The “soft” reeds couldn’t take any air for me at all. No dynamic range whatsoever. The “medium” was fine, although still not very full response in the bottom of the bassoon, and the extreme highs were … tenuous.

So fast forward to about a year ago and Midwest Musical Imports starts carrying the reeds. I tried a half dozen or so of the two new strength options “medium” and “medium hard” and found the medium to be like the soft was when they were first introduced, and the “medium hard” to be like the medium originally. Out of the first batch of ten, I found one that maybe would play OK for me. Not great, but doable. Still not worth $135.

But now I heard they changed the design pretty dramatically sometime in October/November of this year, and for the worse by all reports. So I tried about 10-12 of the medium hard ones and found one that I felt could actually play dynamics for me. Basically the most open, most boisterous one in the group. Way out on the end of the bell curve. I was always surprised at how many people preferred the “medium” strength, and even felt those to be hard/heavy. Unreal. Anyway, I went ahead and bought that one. The most comfortable one I had ever tried, and apparently the last of this generation, so I just went with it. I’ll hold it as a backup in it’s own little reed case in case I forget my reed case at home for a gig or something, I know I’ll have something that will work with me.

And further interesting, when I let one of my students try this reed that I liked, it was SO LOUD for him. These things definitely don’t react like cane. They don’t sound as good (although passable) and respond kinda weird. This one plays the very high notes very well though. But it’s interesting how different they are for different people. I don’t see them replacing my cane reeds for either myself or others any time soon, but there’s certainly a market for a reed that you can’t adjust even if you wanted to. Just make sure you try at least half a dozen and be able to return what you don’t like. They’re at least as variable as cane reeds, if not more so.

Postage increase

I hate to do it, but I have to adjust the rate of postage for my bassoon reeds. The US Postal service raised the price on Priority Mail packages by nearly a full dollar for the small flat rate boxes this month.

I’ve always charged exactly the cost of postage for me. With the flat rate boxes, and using recycled newspaper for packing material, that means it’s only the rate charged by the post office. I don’t have to buy packing and shipping supplies (other than tape and a sheet of paper for the label). So while this jump is significant, I wasn’t making any money on shipping anyway. I unfortunately have to change my shipping to reflect the new cost to me of a flat rate shipment to $6.10 (and that’s not considering that paypal takes their cut of what I charge as well).

December bassoon reed special

Through the month of December (we’ll call it a holiday special) I’m offering my reeds at a discounted rate of $20 per reed. Contra reeds still regular price, but if you need one for those nutcrackers or new year’s concerts, now’s the time.

Please allow 2 days for finishing, and USPS Priority Mail shipping time (usually 2 days).

A4-B4 and Unintended Consequences

After my fancy Ab/Bb trill mechanism was completed, a number of interesting options have come up. The most recent, when seeking to remember the¬†famously impossible A4-B4 trill in the last movement of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, I discovered a new one that anyone with an Ab/Bb trill key can do, and I can do easier since my thumb can just use the Bb key.


B4-A4 downtrill

It’s kind of a down tril. Start on A normal fingering, then go to this full fingering (red trill keys down) for B, and trill open the two tone holes to go down to A. A bit fussy, and the A is sharp, but it works well enough for Berlioz and easier to get to than the other fingering I learned years ago.

Bassoon Reed Styles

While my reeds have been very well received, I know that no single reed style is appropriate for everyone.

The standard Weasel reed is made on my shape design, profiled with no spine. The shape is fairly wide, especially in the throat, and offers excellent response everywhere including extreme registers, with a vibrant and solid “core” to the sound. This is the style of reed I personally play on, and it is what I would suggest you try first from me. This is the reed made using the method in the video linked to on my reeds page.

[Pictures Coming Soon]

My new style is a Popkin style reed. These are made with a Popkin shaper and profiler and made using a different construction method than my standard reed. The Popkin shape is more narrow over all, with straight sides to the blade, and the profile has a spine. The length and wire measurements are made to Mark Popkin’s specs, which are pretty close to my standard reed, except the scrape pattern is totally different. For me these reeds respond better in the lower register than the extreme high register, but they react very well on more resistant bassoons or bocals (so Fox bassoons and Heckels between 11,000 and 13,000 for example). The tonal character is complex and flexible, but just a bit different than my standard reed.

[Pictures Coming Soon]

If this is your first time buying a reed from me, stick with the standard reed first, and if you like the quality but maybe want something different, try the Popkin style reeds.


Two announcements:

I am very happy to announce that I have accepted a position as bassoon professor at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. (My official title is “Lecturer” because that’s what part-time faculty are called.) This fall semester I am also teaching two sessions of Aural Theory, a course I haven’t really thought much of since my days at Lawrence, but Donna DiBella drilled us in solfege so much that I still think in it most of the time I hear music. I’m very excited to teach my first collegiate bassoon studio, although I’m not so excited about an hour and a half commute. It’ll be worth it.

Second, I have purchased a Popkin profiler and shaper and have just completed the first three prototypes of a new reed design that I will make along side my “Weasel” reed. Probably available before the end of September, these are the “Pop Goes The Weasel” reed. These reeds have a completely different profile, shape, length dimension, and constructed differently. The result is a different sound and response (mostly sound). So far the results are extremely promising.