The Crow and Reedmaking (posted on the bboard)

September 28, 2009

Posted here:


Copper and all,

How would you describe a “good” crow – from a “bad” crow.

What does a crow tell you about the reed besides pitch, flexibility, stiffness etc?

Can it tell you where the problem is located in the reed by the type of crow? etc…………….. Can you use it to to facilitate the scraping?

I’ve been thinking about this ever since this post first came up, it just took me several days to process it so that I could put it down on my computer screen

For me, a “good” crow is a reed that has the correct response and continues to respond correctly while taking in different speeds of air, correct tone which does not distort at different dynamic levels, and is at a correct pitch for my oboe.

Before I write any further, let me state that the way I test the crow is by putting my lips clear down to the bottom of the string (where the string meets the cork), and begin to slowly increase the speed of the air. I do not put my lips anywhere near the bark of the throat of the reed or at the top of the string.

Regarding the correct response, it varies for everyone but the reed has to begin making noise at the point of which one expects (and wants) it to. There is no magic number for everyone; the response point is different for everyone and that is perfectly fine. I know Martin’s taste is at a much higher point of resistance than mine, so he knows where he wants the reed to begin speaking. It’s just a personal preference.

Another topic related to the response of the crow is to test to make sure that the resistance is correct so that when I blow faster suddenly, it will give me more volume suddenly! If the reed doesn’t give enough vibration back when I increase wind speed, it will probably make me blow harder than I’m comfortable with which can cause all sorts of tension, and therefore is not deemed efficient.

For me, the crow I shoot for is a soft subtle one, even at the top ranges of dynamic. Blowing from the lightest of pianissimo’s to the strongest of fortissimos, the crow should produce a clean, clear pleasant tone, with pitches spaced in octaves (and sometime oddly Perfect 5ths, although I don’t know why). If the reed doesn’t, I usually need to go back into the reed and define the parts of the reed more or clip the tip a bit. In fact, I believe I clip the tip down so that the “rattle” that has been previously described no longer exists. I don’t like a rattle in my tone, and therefore don’t want a rattle in my crow either.

After I’ve scraped in the tip a bit, along with the heart and the back, I begin clipping until I get the crow up to at least a sharp B, and to the point so that the crow isn’t a bunch of miscellaneous multiphonics but rather one decipherable pitch, usually with an octave or so. (The trick to this is to have already started your tip in approximately the correct location as when you’re going to end with it, usually around 66 or 67.)

One of the first things both Martin and Mr. Weber test in reeds is whether the reed holds it’s tone together, or whether it needs any manipulation from the embouchure to hold itself together. Martin calls this “trying to make the reed sound bad”. One way of testing this is playing on the tip, putting the reed in the corner of my mouth (where there’s no muscle to control the reed), and blow a forte to test whether the tone spreads or not. I find that a loose crow produces loose tone, and thus requires more muscle and embouchure (i.e. endurance) to hold together and I consequentially tire out faster.

The level of the pitch of your reeds depends on what the oboe is pitched at, in conjunction with the oboist’s embouchure and blowing ability. I do find that wider shapes need to crow a little higher in pitch for me, and narrower shapes need to crow a tad lower for me. My magic number with my main shaper tip is C-30 cents, where as my number with the RDG-2 is closer to C+20 cents, and with the Weber 1-B it’s B+30 cents.

The importance of the pitch in the crow for me is to make sure it’s
1. Correct, so I’m not constantly lipping up or lipping down.
2. Constant, so even when I blow faster, the crow doesn’t instantly change pitch for some reason
3. Relatively stable, so that when I vary the wind speed, the pitch might rise and fall a bit, but never dramatically so that it changes pitch. The closer the pitch remains while blowing from a pianissimo crow to a fortissimo crow, the more stable the reed is going to be in the whole range.

I write all of these points of a crow not because I have extra time (believe me, I don’t), but because I hope it will be beneficial for some reedmakers to think about the feedback they hear from the crow and how it relates to what’s going to transpire when that crow becomes an “oboe sound”. Too often I’ll hear a student play great, and then when I go to crow their reed, I get a mess of something (not even sure if it’s an oboe crow), and before even trying the reed, I realize how much manipulation they’re doing in order to get the sound in their head to come out of the oboe. Just imagine how much happier students are when they play on reeds that accomplish all of that manipulation for them so they don’t have to physically hurt themselves to sound “dark” or whatever they’re shooting for!

Regarding the question as to whether the crow can help facilitate the scraping, I would most certainly agree with this idea. As a commercial reedmaker who makes 100+ reeds a month, using the crow to judge how the reed needs to be scraped is much more time efficient than testing the reed in my oboe, and is a truer test of what really the reed is doing, and perhaps will do a day down the road. After having made reeds by using the feedback heard from the crow for over a year now, I can hear a crow of a freshly scraped reed and have a good idea of how it needs adjustment, how it will sound differently tomorrow, and possibly what adjustments it will need the next time I choose to adjust it.

Finally if something is not coming out of the crow that you’re pretty sure should be there, then it usually translates into a lack of something in the reed, and forces the oboist to accomplish it by other means. Besides the example of the crow being too “loose” stated above, one common symptom is the lack of a 2nd octave, which usually implies there’s not enough “depth” or “bottom” in the reed. As a result, oboists usually find themselves straining to blow harder and tighter to get more resonance out of the reed, rather than trying to fix the crow. Of course this extra strain limits flexibility, as well as hinders overall comfort.


2 Responses to “The Crow and Reedmaking (posted on the bboard)”

  1. Bret said

    Thanks for this post, Cooper–very interesting.

    You mention that sometimes you get “perfect 5ths” in your crow. I sometimes get a high C, plus an F a twelfth below. Is that what you are talking about?

    When that happens with my reeds, I usually find them to be passable reeds but not my best ones. My working theory is that it happens when the tip is too long, but I’m not entirely sure yet.

    • cooperwrightreeds said

      Yep, that’s what I’m talking about.

      I don’t notice any differences in consistent quality differences, but I do notice that I tend to get them more often with certain shapes than others. Perhaps it has to do with the shape, perhaps, it has something to do with the way I have to scrape a shape differently than another, perhaps a bit of both.

      I’ve thought about the tip being too long, but I don’t find this as a consistent problem in the reeds that do crow this way. Rather, I think it might have to do with the way the vibrations pass (or don’t pass), through the heart.

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