Topic: problem with EH notes- very puzzling!

I couldn't find an obvious place for this post, so I picked the oboe reed area.  I am having a very annoying and puzzling problem on English horn.  There are a handful of notes on which I can no longer play softly without getting a fluttering/stuttering sound!  It sounds exactly like some piece of debris flapping around somewhere (yes, I checked, did not find anything in bocal or horn).  The worst note is middle C#.  The next worst are the C and B below it.  I have no problems with other notes.

I had experienced this problem a month ago, but only on low F#.  Now that note is OK.  Is this a reed-related thing?  It happens with more than one reed.  Or some adjustment on the instrument that needs to be made?  I have never ever had a problem like this with an oboe. 

Thanks for your help-

Darlene

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Re: problem with EH notes- very puzzling!

No one has any ideas?  sad  I don't think it is the reed or the bocal-- I used different reeds, and both a Fox and Lickman bocal, to no avail.  I am really stumped, and it makes the horn unplayable.  I have stopped up the joints and blown through them, lifting hole by hole to clear out anything that might be lurking and got nowhere.   Some fresh ideas would sure be welcome!

Darlene

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Re: problem with EH notes- very puzzling!

Darlene,

It is not really possible to diagnose "mysterious" problems like this one, without having the horn in-hand to test and inspect.  Any oboe repair specialist should be able to help you out -- in person, of course. 

The best guess I can make, based on what you describe, is that you have a reed issue.  This is only based on the fact that you say the problem has moved from note to note (problems with the instrument don't usually fix themselves and/or move to another spot on the horn). 

The "stuttering" problem is, most probably, the result of reeds that are too closed and are trying to respond to your air, but cannot.  The C# is especially susceptible to this problem.  Try squeezing the reed from the sides to open it a bit, and see if that improves things.

Hope this helps!

Jonathan Marzluf
Owner, Marzluf Reeds
SoCal Freelancer/Educator
www.marzlufreeds.com

Re: problem with EH notes- very puzzling!

As Jonathon says it's difficult to come up with a diagnosis without seeing the instrument.

My guess is that it could just need a bit of adjustment - maybe a bit of silencer cork has fallen off, pads have compressed a bit or adjusting screws have self-adjusted thus causing a slight leak - oboes & EHs with cork pads are especially prone to this. This happens frequently with the F# vent I find. In a high proportion of instruments I see a regular check over or service, before a problem is noticed, would have prevented these traumas for the player.

Ian

Re: problem with EH notes- very puzzling!

thanks guys-- and of course I wasn't expecting a spot-on diagnosis, just looking for some advice on where to start looking.

Darlene

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Re: problem with EH notes- very puzzling!

Darlene,

I experienced this phenomenon just yesterday as I was making oboe reeds.

When I first start scraping a reed, I really try to remove the bulk of the unwanted cane as quickly as possible. I work fast and dirty, yes, even sloppily, and then come back to the reed in one or more days to scrape in a much more careful manner. I had in my hand just such a reed, if you can even call it that, which had a tip which was much too long, and one side of the tip was considerably thicker than the other. I don't know what even possessed me to put it in my oboe and try to play it; I think I was just trying to asses it's "potential", that is, see if what I was scraping was a viable reed blank. It produced a fluttering, stuttering, caterwauling sound which reminded me of what you said you were experiencing.

I'm not suggesting that your reeds are sloppily or unskillfully made, but you may want to see if your reed tips are perhaps too long for their thickness and/or unequal in thickness. As I'm sure you know, an English horn reed tip needs to be considerably thicker than an oboe reed tip.

David Crispin
Crispin's Creations and Accessories
freelance oboist. Mississippi Symphony Orchestra
www.CrispinsCreations.com

Re: problem with EH notes- very puzzling!

thanks, David!    I will certainly check out those possibilities.  I tried an adjustment on the F# resonance key, and while it didn't hurt anything (vent did seem a little light) it didn't help either.  I think you and Jonathan are right and it is something to do with the reeds (which sound great otherwise).  I played on an old reed that is about a year old and did not have a problem with any note stuttering.  I'll let you know what happens.

By the way, when you say one side of the tip was thicker, do you mean on the same blade, or that one blade was thicker than the other?

Darlene

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Re: problem with EH notes- very puzzling!

One blade's tip was thicker than the other blade's tip.

David Crispin
Crispin's Creations and Accessories
freelance oboist. Mississippi Symphony Orchestra
www.CrispinsCreations.com

Re: problem with EH notes- very puzzling!

I can add a couple more ideas to this thread. Rather than being too closed, it is possible that the reed is too open and strong. Then, it becomes necessary to bite in order to play soft and the reed wants to leave the correct pitch. This effect is easy to achieve on any low note, but there's no reason why it couldn't occur other places. Since using an old reed made the problem go away, this would make sense.

You say you've used different bocals from good makers, but it's still possible that the bocal is not perfectly suited to your instrument. If you have a chance to try a handful of different bocals, you may see some improvement. But I suspect the reeds. Do they blow freely? Do you use a wire? What pitch do they crow?
Martin

Martin Schuring
Professor of Oboe, Arizona State University
President, IDRS
http://www.public.asu.edu/~schuring/

Re: problem with EH notes- very puzzling!

Sometimes a combination of problems (reed plus adjustments) can trigger a sound such as you describe. A reed which is, e.g., too closed or too open when played on a perfectly adjusted instrument may not trigger the fluttering response;  but when there is a faulty adjustment (typically, on my instruments, of the small pads in the top joint, or in the e and f resonance adjustments), the unwanted response can be triggered.  Consequently, even if you make a reed which does not create the problem, you should still check the adjustments to get the best performance out of the instrument.

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Re: problem with EH notes- very puzzling!

Darlene - I have had this problem with oboe (low D and C) but not English Horn and it doesn't happen very often, but like others, I am inclined to think it is a reed issue.  HOWEVER!!!  (LOL).  I remember this happening more frequently on basic student model oboes - even when I played them with an excellent reed.  So - yes, it can also be the horn.

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Re: problem with EH notes- very puzzling!

thanks to everyone for your comments.  I've pretty much determined it is either the reeds themselves or how I'm playing them, for some reason.   I'm slowly scraping them to be a little easier, and it seems to help each time.  Yet another confirmation that English horns are not just big oboes!

Darlene

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