by Cindy Hallo
As my first official order of business, I’ve decided to alienate half of our readership. Woo hoo! I’ve really got the hang of this blogging thing already, don’t I?? It’s my goal to see how many times I can get Sean to regret his decision to ask me to write a few posts. I think we can all safely assume this will be the first, but definitely not the last…So brass players, take a load off. Go pick out a new mute, empty your spit valve onto some unsuspecting person’s toe… or whatever it is you guys do for fun.
What I wanted to talk about today is something that only affects some of us, but for those of us who have to deal with it, can cause a real problem in any studio or lesson setting. I’m talking epic, Biblical plague-like problems. Giant swarms of locusts would be easier to deal with than this.
I’m, of course, talking about single reeds.
Or as I like to call them: tiny, tiny pieces of the devil.
I’m not even going to touch on how much I hate picking out reeds for my own personal use. Rest assured choosing reeds is not one of my favorite activities.
What I’m here to discuss is kids and reeds. Two things that should probably never, ever be in the same room together. The old saying “like a bull in a china shop” comes to mind. One of my biggest pet peeves as a teacher is having a student with equipment that doesn’t work properly, whether it be a non-working key that a student has known about for weeks and is just ignoring, a ligature that won’t screw properly, or broken reeds. Broken reeds are the bane of my existence. I haven’t quite figured out how a sixth grader who seems to have a psychic ability to determine that the student next to them is one-seventyith of an inch too close to them in class can miss the giant, softball sized chunk absent from the tip of their reed. Or the thick coating of mold emanating from the very thing they’re sticking in their mouth every day. Ugh…I think I just made myself a little nauseous. It can be like pulling teeth to get a student to play on something that doesn’t look like they gave it to their pet guinea pig to gnaw on for a while. And I think we all know the terrible habits kids start to pick up when they’re deliberately changing their embouchure to make a horrible reed sound okay.
I feel like I’m digressing a little bit from my point, so let’s get back to it – this post is dedicated to sharing ideas on how to get students to use and take care of their reeds properly.
First and foremost is something I never did as a kid, but one of the band directors at my school teaches his beginning band students to do it, and I find it genius in its simplicity. As part of their required supply list, all students purchase a four slot reed guard at the beginning of the school year. Each slot is marked with a number or a different colored sticker – anything to differentiate the slots from each other. Throughout the week, the band director has his students cycle through the reeds, using one each day and basically ensuring that there are 4 broken-in reeds at any given time. When one reed breaks, the student immediately refills that spot with a new reed, working it back into rotation. Like I said…simple, but genius. Easy enough for kids to understand and implement and gets them started on thinking about having more than one working reed at a time. As an added bonus, the reed guards are MUCH easier for little fingers to use than those terrible plastic sleeves the reeds come in. Whoever came up with that little idea obviously never worked with 11-year-olds. Of course, these reed guards still require monitoring. Every few weeks, I peruse through the reed guard, immediately demolishing any reed that’s chipped or starting to mold. I’m probably costing the parents a little extra money, but I’m also saving their child from contracting some medieval form of black lung.
But what about those students who refuse (for whatever reason) to buy new reeds? Has anyone else had a kid try and use the same reed for…I don’t know…six months or so before physically taking the reed from them and crumpling it against a wall?
Not saying I have or anything…
I spent many years frustratingly asking “Is this an old reed?” or “How long have you had this reed?” before I decided that was dumb and I was wasting my breath. Currently, I buy a box of reeds at the beginning of each semester. If you spend too many weeks sounding like you’re trying to play a kazoo, you must destroy your reed and take one of my new ones. Once I run out of reeds for the semester, that’s it. No more. Luckily, I haven’t had anyone try and cheat the system by making me their free reed supplier, but I figure if that ever happens, a quick email to parents with my new reed policy (If your student spends too many weeks on a bad reed without replacing it, don’t worry – I have you covered! I’ll simply add $5 to your next bill for the reed your student purchased from me!) A little harsh? Maybe. But definitely to the point.
How about all you clarinet and saxophone teachers out there? Any great ideas to help your students learn about reed care?