Monday, February 8, 2010

R.I.P. my Reedy Friend: The Law Is On Our Side.

By Mark T. Burke

Just a few weeks ago I experienced a sad, sad day.  A trusted friend's greatest moments came to an end in the blink of an eye.  I'm still not sure what happened.  We were making beautiful music together and all seemed well.  Our tone was great, articulation, spot on.  We came to the climax of a beautiful phrase when it became  obvious something was wrong.  I noticed my friend was just not the same, weakness had set in.  I wasn't used to to my friend showing signs of weakness -- so I panicked.  One glance was all I needed to figure out what happened.  My friend had a....gasp....CHIP!

I've kept my friend around for the last few weeks.  I know there won't be a miracle to heal the wound, but it just felt right to keep us together for just a few more days.

As reed players learn, often the hard way, we need to surround ourselves with many reed "friends."  Interestingly though, most students (present ones included - hint hint), take a rather nonchalant approach to reeds.  Students almost NEVER have enough reeds (relying on just 1 or 2 reeds), don't take choosing the right brand seriously (after all, they are all the same - right?) and don't follow good care practices (too often left on the mouthpiece, thrown in the instrument case or laid on the table).  All of these behaviors are common AND diametrically opposed to what students should be doing.  I'm not exaggerating when I say 70-80% of sound quality issues can be related to reeds.  For those that play brass, relate this to your lip buzz.  If the buzz is good, you have a pretty good shot of creating a good brass sound.

It's time to create a few simple "laws" to guide us all.   

Law 1:  All reeds sound and feel different, even if they are the same brand and same strength.
Law 2:  Each box of reeds contains a few reeds that are great, some that work and others that are awful.
Law 3:  You get what you pay for when buying reeds. But, better doesn't always mean better for "you." 
Law 4:  Reeds for jazz are not good for classical and vise-a-versa.
Law 5:  We are totally in control of which reed we are using. NO EXCUSES.
Law 6:  Reeds must be matched to the mouthpiece.  Softer reeds work with open mouthpieces, harder reeds work with closed mouthpieces.
Law 7:  A student's or player's age has nothing to do with their need for a particular strength of reed.  So for anyone who has ever advised, "You are in 9th grade now, you need to use a 3 reed." -- ahh -- NO!
Law 8:  Reeds must be prepared in some way shape or form before they are played to ensure consistency and longevity.  I know some pro players who take reeds out of the box and play them. They are not the norm.  I'll listen to all arguments, but you won't convince me that reed prep is not worth the effort.
Law 9:   Reeds should never be purchased in singles.  This one blows my mind.  I have actually witnessed students buying "a" reed.  For beginners, this may be an OK practice.  For more advanced players -- ahh -- NO!
Law 10:  Even the best of the best will fall victim to use, age and damage.  R.I.P. my friends.

If you are interested in learning more, let's talk.  I would love to hold a viaAcademies "Reed" prep lesson for those interested.

So which laws have you broken?  Which are the most important?   

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