Reeds by Holly

What Should the Finished Reed Sound Like?

The Peep:

Use the peep of the reed to check flexibility of the reed. The peep of the reed is made by using the embouchure and blowing into the reed without the horn. It should sound about a C give or take a half step. Now, slide the reed out until you are playing on a tiny portion of the tip, letting the pitch sweep downward as you pull the reed out. Don’t adjust the pitch with your lips. It should naturally be about a minor third in range. If the interval is too wide, like a siren, you know the reed is too flexible and pitch will be unpredictable throughout your two-octave scale.

The Crow:

The crow of the reed is produced by sliding the lips up onto the thread and blowing until the reed sounds about a C, and increasing the air speed until the lower octave joins in. The quality of these octaves will give you the “raw data” of the sound that this reed will produce. Be sure not to manipulate the sound of the octaves. Just blow. You want to know what the reed is built to do without any compensation from your embouchure. The best reeds will crow both the octave C’s effortlessly, equally loudly, with a clear tone, without rattles and other junk in the sound. This kind of reed allows you to play with a good sound, well in tune, with minimal manipulation by your embouchure.

If the tip is too open, the reed will tend to crow flatter, perhaps a B or B-flat. The reed will be hard to get started and take a lot of air to keep it going. It will be loud and bombastic on attack, have no focus to the sound, and play flat. On the other hand, if the tip is collapsing, it will tend to crow sharp and play sharp, and it will not produce a lot of sound, and it may be hard to tongue fast. So, you see the crow often indicates overall pitch tendency, but don’t panic if it isn’t exactly a C. The real test of pitch is to play with a normal embouchure in front of a tuner and see where the pitch tendency lies. The crow shows you how effortlessly the vibrations are traveling through the reed. It’s really an indication of resistance (ease of blowing), of resonance, and tonal focus. We use the crow to know where to take off wood to get the reed to ring with clarity and presence, and hint to us of the overall pitch center.

An important thing to remember about crowing the reed is that everybody does it a little bit differently, and that’s fine. Just make sure you do it the same way every time. You have your own way of holding the shape inside your mouth when you play, and you should crow the reed with that same shape. That way, you are building or adjusting the reed to play the way you play. Just be sure to use all the length of the scraped reed inside your lips, and don’t manipulate the sound. Let the reed tell you what it can and can’t do without your help.

The Playing Tests:

Some good indicators other than the crow and peep are listed below. Use your normal embouchure to play these test notes.

  • Very softly start a high C. It should start easily with the breath only and be in tune without lipping it up or down.
  • With moderate volume, start a low D with the breath only. It should start easily without honking, bleating, or playing out of tune.
    Try tonguing a high C briskly. It should keep its pitch and focus and respond easily.
  • Articulate some comfortable attacks on low C, B, and B-flat. You shouldn’t have to fight the attacks, and the sound should be resonant and controllable.
  • A good indicator of stability is to play loudly, slurring between fourth-space E, F-natural, F-sharp and see if the half-steps are true in pitch without having to lip them. Also play the slur between third-line B, B-flat, and C.
  • A well-built reed will play all these notes with good pitch and the tone quality will be reasonably blended without a lot lipping to make it sound good.