Reed Manipulation: My Foolproof, Top Secret Trick

reed manipulation reed strength reeds May 31, 2024

OK, are you ready for the #1, top secret, most amazing reed manipulation trick in the world?

This trick will make you sound incredible 100% of the time. Well, most of the time, anyway.

You’ll never have to worry about a bad reed every again.

Here it is…

Just don’t do it. Say no to reed manipulation tricks.

Should I manipulate my reed?

As a piper, few things are more frustrating than when you switch to a new reed and something’s not quite right. Maybe it’s too hard for you. Too easy. Maybe it’s sharp on F, or not quite as vibrant on the top hand.

And we want our reed to sound great and play easily straight out of the box, right? So maybe we lick or soak it. Pinch it. Poke it. Perform delicate surgery to shave it down to a more comfortable pressure.

In my youth, I definitely messed around with reed manipulation – rubber bands, pokers, licking and shaving, you name it.

But as more greys somehow keep appearing on my head… my advice? Hands off!

What does reed manipulation do?

Any reed manipulation technique offers lots of ways to potentially damage a beautiful and fragile part of our instrument.

Most reeds you’ll buy today are made by reputable makers, whose craftsmanship just keeps getting better, more consistent, and more reliable. So if a reed maker – an artist who’s a master at their craft – has designed something specifically to produce a beautiful sound… doesn’t jumping straight to doing surgery seem ill advised?

Before you get out the poker or scalpel, or start slobbering all over that pesky hard or ‘funky’ reed, ask yourself: why manipulate a reed in the first place?

Let’s say, for example, your new reed sounds a little thin on the high hand. From experience, I can tell you, it’s probably not an issue with the reed. It’s more likely it just needs a bit of moisture. Plug it into your bagpipe, play it for five minutes knowing that it’s not going to sound great. Trust the process. And let your instrument acclimatize so your reed can absorb that moisture, and it’ll be singing in your pipes in no time.

Let’s say your reed’s too hard for you. Will shaving it down, or putting a rubber band on it, or pinching it help?

Maybe, in the short term. But are you more likely to damage the reed and shorten its lifespan, when really, you should be playing a reed that’s the right strength for your current fitness?

The opportunity cost of reed manipulation

Let’s say for argument’s sake that you did get a dud reed. A complete fail. Keep in mind, this is less and less common now. You could try any number of ways to manipulate it to sound decent. You might even get it to work… but let’s consider the opportunity cost of doing that. After all, we all only have the same 24 hours in a day.

Would you rather be spending your precious practice time fiddling and fussing over a reed that has an issue? Or would you rather be working on other skills, tunes, and maintenance tasks with that valuable time?

Take a minimalist approach. If a reed is good, it’s good. If it’s not – set it aside and find one that’s right for you.

No reed manipulation required.

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