This is a remake of BDP#3.

<Music: Hummel, Bassoon Concerto, III, Terry B. Ewell, bassoon, and Peter Amstutz, fortepiano, Oct. 1997, Kent University.>

I trust that the first few videos have been helpful to you and have introduced you to some important definitions and concepts for bassoon reed making.
This video will concentrate on observation and balancing, which are two very important things that the reed maker needs to do. When you consider your bassoon reeds you need to not only look at tuning and other aspects, but you should look at the balance of the reeds since this will optimize the reed playing both at loud and dynamics as well as throughout the range of the instrument.

I have four principal methods of observation that I use to instruct my students. All of these methods require a wet reed. They are really all quite simple. Really the only tool I need for these four methods is a bassoon reed plaque. The reason we use a wet reed is because the cane is suppler when wet and it is also easier to view the layers of the parenchyma, that is, the wood or grain, when the cane is moist.  We will be able to observe that. In the last video in this series I have some reeds that I am putting before the camera, so you will be able to see what I am talking about.

One of the problems with an unbalanced reed is that we have the curvature of the blade in different places. Here is an example where the top blade is stronger forcing the lower blade to bend a bit. Here the bottom portion of this blade pushes up the top blade in this position.  Here is an example where the entire top of the blade is stronger, although in this one portion (right) it is well balanced.
I have a little maxim or saying I use. Often my students won’t know what to do to fix a reed.  “If in doubt, balance it out.” This has been a very good help for me and my students as you are trying to improve the reed. Usually is the reed is out of balance, just simply balancing it will be a tremendous help. Besides the balancing, of course, some of the concepts and ideas introduced in the third video about counterpoises will be very helpful.

So let’s go to the four methods of observation. The first method is to visually examine the reed blade. This is looking at the fibers or grain of the reed. You are examining the blade for symmetry. In this example we can see grain fibers that extend further up on the left hand side on this particular reed than the right hand side. Now, actually if you look at a reed you will see fibers throughout the blade. Some will suddenly appear in this section. But here we are looking at these longitudinal fibers that started at the back. Then here we are into a different layer of the reed cane.

So looking carefully at the fibers and the texture can show you where the reed is too heavy. That is a very important method of observation that I use a lot in my reed making. Again it is easier to see the reed, it is easier to see those fibers in the blade, if the reed is wet.

The second method of observation uses what I call, “the bubble test.”  The bubble test is done by positioning your fingers over the reed blade, looking at the tip—at the aperture of the reed directly in front of you, and slowly closing the reed with your thumb and index finger. So what you get is this bubble test. It will start with number 1 with next to no pressure from the fingers.  As you close it a little further you get number 2. Notice that the aperture, the center, the opening, of the reed (this is what allows the air into the reed) is closing up. The blades are in contact here. In number 3 we have an even smaller aperture.

Now this is an excellently balanced reed because the aperture closes and lines up right where the center is. If the bubble is off-center, for instance, if the bubble is positioned over here; it would mean that side of the reed, the right-hand side of the reed is stronger. The left-hand side collapses first, the weaker blade is on this side.  The right hand has a stronger portion of the blade and that is what is left open. That would immediately tell you that in order to balance this reed you don’t want to take material off the left hand side. You want to concentrate your energies on the right-hand side, taking off cane in that portion so eventually you can get the bubble aligned in the center. There should be symmetry to these blades.

The next step I use is what I call the “finger test.” Now I know that with the bubble test I used my fingers. Yes, I know that.  But this finger test is where I feel the entire blade. I feel the tip area, I feel the heart, I feel both sides (left and right), I feel the alleys and areas near the rails. I find that my fingers are able to sense, able to feel, where there are heavier or lighter portions of the reed. What I can’t always see with my eyes I can feel with my fingertips. Our fingers are remarkably sensitive to pressure. You might find that this is a good and quick assessment tool for you.

The fourth method of observation is to take the bassoon plaque and insert it in the reed to observe the rail thicknesses. For instance, we have the plaque here inserted in the reed. The blades of the reed are spread apart ever so slightly so that you can observe the thickness between the metal plaque inserted here and the reed blades. Now, this particular reed here is symmetrical. Some reeds, however, will have one rail thicker (such as the lower) than the other. In that case this is another way for you to observe that you need to take off some of that lower rail in order to balance the reed.

Last of all, I want to mention that we have some other reed measuring tools that are very helpful as well. I haven’t mentioned these up to this point. A lamp (a light source) is a very nice method of measurement.  I will show a video on that shortly. And also there is the dial indicator.

Many people find it helpful to look at reeds with a light source. This for example, is the first reed I have. You can see some of the grain easier. One thing you need to be aware of, however, when looking with lights sources is that depending upon the age of the reed and the density of the cane that reeds will look different. The denser the cane is, the more opaque the reed. Those were two new reeds I showed you. This is an older reed. It is a bit more opaque. It is more difficult to see through.  This is probably the oldest reed of the bunch. You can see how much darker that reed is. But still you might find this a useful way to observe reeds, looking at the grain.

A dial indicator is another way in which a bassoonist can measure reeds. A dial indicator provides different measurements along the reed. The advantage of the dial indicator is its exact measurements. It is very good at measuring the center—spine, heart—of the reed. It is not as good, however, with measurements on the rails or the sides. That is one disadvantage with this particular type of measurement.

What a blessing it has been. I have been able to communicate with you, to give you some information. And now let me pray, and God will be communicating with you as well. Lord, I ask for you to be moving by your Holy Spirit, touching the lives of those listening to this, and God encouraging their hearts to move toward You. Amen.

<Music: Hummel, Bassoon Concerto, III, Terry B. Ewell, bassoon, and Peter Amstutz, fortepiano, Oct. 1997, Kent University.>