musings of a professional bassoonist

Friday, December 25, 2009

The reed making habit

One of the benefits of maintaining this blog is that I am under constant self-induced pressure to practice what I preach.  I have preached that reed making is a habit which must be practiced daily to hone one's reedmaking skills and to provide a plentiful supply of reeds to choose from.  I stated that my goal was to make a minimum of one reed per day.  That goal seemed reasonable and worthwhile.

My longtime habit was thrown off by a change in scheduling of the Dr. Phil show.  Until recently, the Dr. Phil show aired daily at 10am, which proved to be the ideal time of day for me to make reeds (as long as I didn't have a 10am rehearsal).  In October Dr. Phil was moved to a late afternoon slot, and for some inexplicable reason, I can't/won't make reeds late in the day.


Dr. Phil had provided the perfect backdrop for reedmaking, because it was unnecessary to look at the TV screen- I just listened.  And learned.  (An added benefit of the Dr. Phil backdrop was that I was able to use my new found counseling skills to help troubled friends and acquaintances.  It's amazing how many problems can be dissipated by merely asking the famous Dr. Phil question: "So how's that workin' for ya?")


Glancing at the reed rack, I realized that the blanks on that rack had been formed weeks ago.  I had entered into a full-fledged reed slump.  I can't totally blame Dr. Phil for that.  These days, it's more important than ever before for orchestral musicians to do whatever they can to help the orchestra.  Here in Columbus we volunteer in various ways, such as playing for fundraisers and serving on committees.  Right now, the relationship between the musicians and the management is better than ever, so I am inspired to spend a lot of time helping. 

The question "How's that workin' for ya?" had to be applied to my own life, as I realized that my reed reserves were diminishing to a dangerously low level.  Although I make a fair number of reeds, I also use a lot of reeds!   I began to imagine trying to get through the difficult programs in January without enough reeds to choose from.  Slacking off on reedmaking was definitely NOT working for me!

During the first week of January we are performing the Sibelius Symphony No. 5 which features a major bassoon solo.  Bflat3 is a prominent note in the solo, so I'm going to have to have one of those reeds which is particularly stable on Bflat3.  (I vividly recall rejecting 50 reeds before I found one with a stable enough Bflat3 the last time I had a solo with prominent Bflat3s!)  Clearly, I need a huge supply of reeds right now.

Like any other habit which has been broken, it can be challenging to reboot the reedmaking habit.  I decided to just do it.  I was motivated by the fact that I have a new batch of cane to try: Rigotti from Woodwind Brasswind.  It's cheaper than any other source of Rigotti, and it looks good.  The gouge is even, as you can see here:


Since I have fallen behind, my minimum now has to be raised to 2 per day.  As I started working on my first blank, I wondered why I was so resistant to this activity.  It's really not that painful, yet ask any bassoonist what he/she thinks of reedmaking, and you'll probably be rewarded with eye-rolling, groaning and expletives.  But it's really not that bad, once you overcome the resistance and actually get started.



And at least we have tangible results to show for our efforts.  On the first day of my return to reedmaking, after finishing 2 blanks, I was fairly pleased with myself and actually wanted to extend my reedmaking session.  So I wrapped a couple of a couple of previously made blanks, and here's the result of just that one reedmaking session:


It never fails that when I return to reedmaking after a break from it, I make mistakes at first because I haven't been practicing reedmaking.  This time I forgot to score the bark before forming the tube.  I suspect that the reason I forgot is because I recently experimented with no scoring to see if scoring really makes a difference.  It does; the tubes sometimes crack too much down the middle when the mandrel is inserted without scoring.  If that center crack is too deep it can ruin the blades.  Fortunately, the reeds I forgot to score turned out fine, with no dangerous cracking, but it's a risk I prefer not to take.

Since I'm always promoting the concept of the reedmaking habit, I decided to research the question of how long, or how many repetitions, it takes to form a habit to the point where it becomes automatic.

Check out this interesting study on habit formation.

As you can see, "automaticity" was reached after an average of 66 repetitions!  That's daunting.  Maybe habit formation is not the best approach.

I try to enhance the reedmaking experience in whatever ways I can.  (If it's not exactly going to be a habit, then at least I'd better make it as appealing as possible to increase the odds that I'll keep doing it.)  I turn on the TV, and since there's a good chance that I won't like what's on, I make sure I have a good supply of opera recordings from the library to choose from, as an alternative to the TV.  Here's today's selection, which proved to be perfect for reedmaking:


 I bring the dog into the room so that I have some company during those long, lonely reedmaking sessions.


I turn on the colored lights.


I throw some peanuts out on the driveway to encourage squirrel activity which I can view through the window when my eyes need a break from reed scrutiny.


A bassoonist's best reedmaking motivation is, of course, the desire to sound as good as possible. A substandard reed can be mighty embarrassing!




11 comments:

T.B. said...

Brilliant plan. Is your dog a basenji? We are dog-sitting a friend's basenji right now, and she is so sweet. Does your dog have a musical name?

bridget said...

Love your honesty! I have not yet been able to develop a reed making habit.

But, here are a few of my techniques I use to get myself into the reed mode.

#1 turn on TMZ...that's my backdrop

#2 I make sure my dog is in the room with me too.

#3 If things don't go well, I keep a glass of wine close at hand, (usually red), to keep my spirits up.

Love to here your comments! Keep up the good posting!

B.S. said...

Dear T.B.,

The dog is of unidentified lineage. His name is Bowser. The name is not musical, but it does remind me of my grandmother who had a red stuffed dog named Bowser in her living room.

Betsy

B.S. said...

Dear Bridget,

TMZ would definitely go well with reedmaking. I'm going to try it. Also, I'm glad that I'm not the only one who wants the dog nearby!

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Betsy

DTclarinet said...

I think you should write to Dr. Phil and tell him how he messed up your schedule. Who knows, he might respond.

It looks like you know how to set up a nice cozy environment for such a tedious activity. That in itself is a good lesson for anyone.

B.S. said...

Dear DT,

Hmmmm....I hadn't thought of complaining to Dr. Phil. Maybe I'll give it a try!

Betsy

T.B. said...

Dear Dr. Phil,

I'm sorry, but it's just not working for me.

Betsy

T.B. said...

P.S. Happy New Year!! :)

B.S. said...

Dear T.B.,


The strangest thing happened today! I turned on the TV at my old reed making time (10am. Lo and behold- Dr. Phil was ON!!!!! I'm guessing that a bunch of bassoon reed makers had complained, and the time was switched back to 10am!

Happy New year!!!

Betsy

Grace Bee said...

I just started playing the bassoon 3 weeks ago. I worry about the reed. How do you make them last longer?

B.S. said...

Grace, the best way to make a reed last is to rinse it off with cold water after playing on it, and let it air dry before putting it in its reed case or container. When you're rinsing it, gently scrape the blades (the wood part) with your fingernail to remove any remaining scum. That habit will pay off!


Good luck~
Betsy