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Let’s talk about reed rotation

What is reed rotation and why is it important?

Reed rotation is just what it sounds like – rotating the reeds you use when you practice or perform so that they all break in evenly.

As a reed player, rotating your reeds is one of the simplest things you can do that will yield more consistent reeds and extend the lifespan of your reeds.

Reed rotation is important because it provides you with more reed options in any given musical situation. If you rotate your reeds, you will have several good reeds in your case at a time, as opposed to one good reed which might vary from day to day and leave you scrambling to find another.

Reeds and shoes have a lot in common. It’s important to always have a few different options, otherwise you’ll use the same reed/pair of shoes until it’s worn out and no longer usable. But, if you have a rotating selection of reeds/shoes at any given moment, you’re more adaptable to a wider variety of musical scenarios.

So, without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about reed rotation:

When should I start rotating my reeds? Now! From the very first lesson with new students, I introduce them to the importance of reed rotation. I’ve been rotating reeds since I was in middle school because my band director preached the benefits of reed rotation, and I encourage reed players of all ages to begin rotating your reeds asap.

How many reeds should I have in my case? It depends on your practice and performance obligations. For students in middle school and high school, I recommend rotating 4-6 reeds in proper playing condition (i.e. no chips, mold, or other issues which prevent them from playing their best). For older students and professionals, the number can be anywhere from 10-20 reeds or more. (It’s not an uncommon occurrence to see professionals carry reed cases with 50+ reeds!)

How do I rotate reeds? All you need to rotate reeds is…reeds. You’ll want to have some method to distinguish one reed from another, so I suggest using a case like the Vandoren Hygro Case which includes numbered slots for your reeds. You can also use a pen or permanent marker to label reeds in their individual sleeves, or you can use a pencil to write on the reeds themselves. What you choose to write on the reeds or their cases is up to you – some people include the date they opened the reed, numbers, symbols, or other specific markings to distinguish one reed from another. Some people even keep a reed journal with dates of use and other comments about each reed. Once you’ve labeled your reeds, all you have to do is cycle through them regularly as you practice and perform. So, if you have six reeds, your reed rotation could be using reed 1 on day 1, reed 2 on day 2, etc etc until you begin the cycle again.

Any other advice for reed rotation? Avoid using the same reed for too long. This can apply to a single practice session or over the course of several days. When you find a really good reed, it can be so tempting to use it every time you play. This is bad because it will wear out faster than the others in your rotation, so try to avoid favoring one reed at the exclusion of the rest. Also, be sure to keep all of your reeds in a stable environment which isn’t prone to changes in temperature, humidity, altitude, or barometric pressure. Reeds don’t like these environmental changes, so I keep my reeds in an airtight sandwich container or bag so they play more consistently from one day to the next.

I hope this advice helps you to create your own reed rotation plan. Wishing you lots of luck and many great reeds!

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