Friday, October 11, 2013

Busy, Busy, Busy....

Sorry I've been MIA lately...between growth challenges with the baby and business in the shop really taking off, I haven't had much time (read: none) to write here on the blog. I think things are starting to settle in though, and hopefully I can get back to a regular posting schedule soon!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How to: Maintain your Reed Supply

I think one of the most difficult things a young reed maker faces is the challenge of having to maintain their own reed supply. Over the last 10 years I've developed methods and tricks that help me to always have a steady stream of reeds, and I wanted to share them with you today.

how to maintain your reed supply

The number one thing that I do to maintain my reed supply is to work through each step on 3 reeds every day. This means that I tie on 3 reeds every day, I do the first scrape on 3 reeds every day, and I do the second/final scrape on 3 reeds every day. I work on a total of 9 reeds daily in this assembly line fashion. Doing this allows me to have 3 reeds in the hopper for the next step; each day I'm taking the previous day's work a step further.

Students frequently want to work through all three steps on one reed and then move to the next reed and do it all again. The result of doing this is that they only have finished (or what they think of as finished) reeds in their box. This can be devastating when their teacher isn't pleased with the result and table tests all of their hard work! If they had done their reed work in stages, they would at least have 3 blanks and 3 reeds started to pick up and start over again with.

tracking reeds in a reed notebook

The other thing that I do that I think helps with my reed supply is to track my reeds in a reed notebook. All of my staples are numbered to help me know which reed is which. I write the date that they are tied on, with their number, the color of the thread, and the type of cane that I used. The next time I work on the reed I note what day it is, and when I finish the reed I do the same. I also can notate if I end up destroying a reed and the reason, i.e. the cane was mealy or I shredded the tip. I frequently note when I have a really good piece of cane, or if I'm using a different type of staple. I also use this system to keep track of which reeds are going to which students (so I can keep track of how old their reeds are) as well as the reeds that I sell online.

Both of these systems help me keep on top of my reed making process and ensure that I have a really steady reed supply. There isn't a magic wand that gives you perfect reeds, but hard work and consistency will help you become a solid reed maker. Of course, if it all seems like too much for you, I'd be happy to maintain your reed supply for you!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Now Offering: Reed Subscriptions

I'm excited to announce that Sarah Parker Oboe Reeds is now offering monthly Reed Subscriptions. I had been thinking about offering them for a while and when a new customer requested them, I thought it would be a good idea to go ahead and list them. This is a great way to take some of the worry away from your playing, because your reeds will arrive around the same time each month without you having to think about re-ordering them.

Oboe Reed Subscription, 12 months, 2 reeds, Free Shipping

I'm offering these subscriptions for 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months; purchasing a 12 months subscription gets you free shipping, which saves you about $70.00! You can get 2 or 3 reeds each month and I'm offering them in both the student and professional reeds. The subscription and shipping are paid up front, and the reeds are shipped by the 15th of every month. Check out the new Reed Subscriptions, here.

Monday, August 19, 2013

32 Metronomes...

I can't believe I just spent 4 minutes watching metronomes. Actually, I watched it twice, so I guess I spent 8 minutes watching metronomes. This video is crazy! My favorite is the red one on the far right that holds out until 2:40.

It works because they are on a flexible surface. Now you can say you spent 4 minutes watching metronomes too!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Liang Wang is an oboe god...

Just a quick video today, as I have to go do some folder stuffing and music taping at the symphony office. Liang Wang is the principal oboist of the NY Phil, and he's awesome, so enjoy!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

New Business Cards

Well, Sarah Parker Oboe Reeds has been up and running on Etsy for a little over two weeks, and I have learned a ton about online marketing in that time period. On Monday, I had my first sale! A nice lady bought three reeds from me, and I've been hard at work getting them finished. I really wanted to have business cards that matched the shop, blog, and facebook themes to go out in the packaging with the reeds, so I turned again to the lovely Christin at Christin Thomas Design. I really can't recommend her enough, she's very easy to work with, talented and incredibly quick. This time I ordered her custom font logo design and her custom business card design.

new business card front

That's the front of the card, and I love how simple it is. The back is really fun, and I'm very excited about it, because I'm also going to be able to use it as a magnet.

new business card back

She also designed the logo in blue for me, so I can use it on white paper or on whatever I want really. I've got an idea for getting it on the reed tubes that I think will work. I'll probably do a post next week on how all the packaging works out.

new custom logo

If you're a professional musician, I can't stress to you enough how important it is to have professional looking business cards. You can use templates online or hire an affordable design professional like I did, but you need to have them. They don't have to be boring; we're in a creative industry and people appreciate seeing your personality come across on your business card. The other thing about business cards is to make sure you always have them with you (I'm frequently guilty of this). You never know when you're going to meet someone who could be a beneficial contact. You should have them in your instrument case, your purse or wallet, or heck, even in the diaper bag! 

Monday, August 5, 2013

3 Reasons Why I Love the Yamaha Oboe (for Students and Band Programs)

Frequently I'm asked what type of instrument a band program or student should buy; my answer is almost always " BUY A YAMAHA OBOE!!!" Well, maybe not quite that emphatic, but close. I'm talking about their intermediate model: YOB-441 and all that jazz. You might wonder why I choose to promote them so much when I play a Loree oboe myself. Well, there are 3 really good reasons.

Yamaha Oboe Love

1. Four words: Plastic Lined Top Joint

Yamaha has a ton of different options when it comes to their oboes: wood, plastic, wood with a plastic lined top joint. Now, I happen to think that their plastic oboes are pretty great, especially for school-owned instruments. I can't tell you how many severely cracked school instruments I've seen that were purchased because "wood is better," that had been left in a closet for 2-10 years, and cracked almost as soon as somebody starts playing them. Yamaha offers the best of both worlds; their plastic lined model has the warmth of wood with less risk of cracks. It's also great, because students frequently don't have enough patience to fully break in a wooden instrument. If your child "accidentally" practices for an hour in the first few weeks (wooden oboes need to be played frequently for small increments of time during their break in period), all is not lost, and the instrument can probably take it.

2. French Adjustment Screws

The Yamaha oboe has tapered french adjustment screws just like my big-girl Loree oboe. This doesn't seem like such a big deal until you've had the joy of adjusting 2 or 3 Selmer oboes in the same week. Most student model oboes have straight adjustment screws, that start wiggling their way out of place almost as soon as they get put into adjustment. What does that mean? It means that the oboe is hardly ever in good working order, which equals frustrated students and band directors. Tapered adjustment screws "lock" in place, which helps keep the adjustment set for a longer period of time. If more manufacturers used them, french adjustment screws could seriously take the oboe off of the endangered instrument list.

3. They are AFFORDABLE

I love these instruments because they have a great sound and all the keys we need for a great price. When you're looking for an instrument, you want it to have either a full-conservatory or modified conservatory system. In lay-man's terms, this means the oboe has all the keys you need, like a low Bb and a left F. Yamaha YOB-441's have a modified conservatory system and can be consistently found in the $2000-3000 range, which is practically a bargain when it comes to oboes.

Do I love my Loree oboe? Yes, absolutely. Are there other instruments out there that are great for students and band programs? Yes, of course. Am I affliated in any way with Yamaha? Nope. For me the Yamaha oboe is just a great, low-maintenance, affordable option. If you're in the market for a new instrument and would like some more information or guidance, please get in touch with me. I'd love to help!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Richard Woodhams testing reeds

Just a quick video today! Richard Woodhams is one of my very favorite oboists, so I really liked seeing him test his reeds. I particularly like his expression after he plays the one that's "just right." That's how I feel too!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

How to Practice Music: Using the Level System

When I work with students, I'm frequently reminded that a lot of us simply have no idea how to practice music. Practicing is more than just getting the instrument out and playing (although, that's sometimes the hardest part!). It's a skill that we have to learn, whether on our own or with the help of a teacher. One of the tools that I use when I'm teaching my students how to practice music is the Level System.

How to Practice - Using the Level System

Last year I told you about a book that revolutionized the way I teach music, The Practice Revolution by Philip Johnston. The main tool in this book that's changed how I practice music is an idea called The Level System. I learned a piece using this method two years ago, and I can pick it up today and it will be as fresh as if I had worked on it last week. Ever since then, I've had my students learn all their music and All-State scales this way. Basically, the idea is that you section your music off into small phrases, if it's not too technically challenging, or into individual measures if there is a lot to work on technique-wise. Each section is given a number and the sectioned music looks like this:

how to practice music - sectioned music

This piece is not challenging technically, so it's been sectioned into small phrases. Once we have our sections, we can start putting them through the levels. The levels are a series of steps that have to be mastered one after the other before we can move on. They start out fairly easy: rhythm, then notes, then articulations, and finally upping the tempo. 

The Metronome

The metronome is used the whole time, except for the second level, which is all about notes. Without the metronome, we have no standard to judge ourselves by, and it's really easy for rhythm mistakes to creep in. To figure out our metronome markings, all we have to do is figure out our final tempo and work backwards.  So, if our level 6 tempo is q = 120, level 5 would be q = 116, level 4 would be q = 112, level 3 would be q = 108 and level 1 would be q = 104. Here's a blank level system for you to use (the link takes you to a Google doc):

How to Practice Music - Blank Level System
Blank Level System
As you work through the levels, all you have to do is write the number of the level completed in the blank space next to the section numbers. To consider a level completed, you need to be able to play it correctly three times in a row. With my students, when they get through level 6 with a section, we mark it with a small sticker, and when they've done all the sections we put a big sticker at the top along with the date completed. The stickers are really important because they give you a visual reference of how much you've gotten done.

The Lesson Notebook

 One of my favorite things about using the level system is that it's really easy for me to notate what I want the student to do for the week in their lesson notebook. A typical notebook entry would look like:

Bach, Gavotte - Trio
  • S.1 - L. 6
  • S.5 - L. 6
  • S.9 - L. 6
  • S.11 - L. 4
  • S. 13 - L. 3
S stands for section and L stands for level. Because the levels are already defined for the student, it's very clear what needs to be accomplished for the next lesson. We typically try to have 3 sections completed for every lesson and one or two in the hopper for the next week.

how to practice music - completed level system

When I practice, my natural tendency is to practice the first phrase to death and neglect the rest of the piece. The level system ensures that each section of the piece is practiced with the same attention to detail, and once all of the sections are completed, they're all technically in the same place. The harder parts aren't slower than the easy parts, and it's really easy to put everything back together and start working on phrasing. If you're questioning how to practice music, or if you're looking for a better way to practice, I highly recommend trying the level system!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Why you NEED an oboe reed case

Recently I've been considering why an oboe reed case is a necessity for all oboe players, rather than an optional accessory. I talked about the importance of handmade oboe reeds earlier, but this is important whether the reeds you play on are handmade or not.

moldy oboe reeds - why you need a reed case

I read an article about trombone lung that discussed the types of mold that grow inside the tubing of brass instruments and it got me thinking about the mold that I sometimes see inside oboe reeds. That people put in their mouths. I decided to cut up some reeds just to show you...because I can make more. :)

moldy oboe reeds

The reed blades on the left came out of my personal reed case and the blades on the right were stored in a reed vial while we were waiting for my student's reed case to come in. Why the difference? My reed case has proper ventilation while a reed vial doesn't have any air flow. at. all. This means that the bacteria that gets blown into the reed from your mouth gets to stay moist and dark, and that means mold. See the black spots? Yep, that's mold. Just what you want to grow on the inside of your oboe reed. Hygiene reasons aside, it also causes the reed to vibrate differently, which will change the sound.

oboe reed vial

So, why do oboe reeds come in reed vials if they aren't good for them? Well, they're the safest container for shipping and storage, because the reed's tip can be protected and the reed doesn't move around. Reed makers don't intend for them to be used for long term storage. The other thing that happens when reed vials are used for long term storage is that the tip of the reed frequently gets hit on the sides of the vial, which usually renders the reed unplayable. Reeds are expensive, so we should do everything possible to keep them in the best playing order.
Hodge 3 Oboe Reed Case

Ok, so I've convinced you that you need an oboe reed case to protect your investment, but what kind should you buy? The only kind of oboe reed case that I don't recommend is the type that looks like a clarinet reed holder, where the reed slides in. These are just as bad as reed vials as far as destroying the tip of the reed. This is the type of reed case that I use, but I'm going to assume that most of you don't need to store 20 reeds at a time. I really like these 3 reed cases from Ann Hodge that you can get from Amazon for around $12.00. They get the job done, fit in most oboe cases and are inexpensive.

Now that you know what can grow inside of an oboe reed and what kind of oboe reed case to buy, you can start really protecting your oboe reeds. Please get in touch if you need more help picking one out!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Music Books for Kids: The Philharmonic Gets Dressed

Since I'm a mommy now, I thought it might be nice to add a music books for kids series. There are a lot of really great books written for children, but The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin is by far my favorite. Even though my mom is a professional musician, I didn't read this as a child. I found out about it in college from one of my friends (whose mom is also a musician). She got the book when she was three, and after she read it all she wanted was concert black. So, for Christmas that year she got a black velvet concert dress that she wore all the time. Now she's got her doctorate in violin performance.

music books for kids

The book follows the musicians of a metropolitan orchestra as they get dressed to go to work. While the city around them slows down for the night they take showers, brush their teeth, put on their underwear, wiggle into dresses, tie bow ties and put on jackets. The illustrations are absolutely brilliant, and it's really fun to try to guess which characters play which instruments while you read (the piccolo player is my favorite!) Another friend babysat for her viola teacher in school, and every time her teacher played a concert she read this book to her daughter. In addition to just being an awesome book for all kids, its a really special way for a musician's child to connect with the work that often consumes their parents.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

New Look! and Etsy Oboe reed shop is OPEN!!!

How do you like the new look on the blog? After months of feeling like this blog and it's facebook page didn't have a very cohesive look, I decided to upgrade to a new design. I purchased a few sets of design packages from the talented Christin at Christin Thomas Design and I couldn't be happier with the results! I honestly didn't know that the design (or lack thereof) was bothering me as much as it was until I saw how good it all looks now. The main thing that inspired me to do all this was the grand opening of my etsy  oboe reed shop!

Sarah Parker Oboe Reeds
I'm so excited about taking my handmade oboe reeds to a larger audience than just the local clientele I've built up here in Wilmington. I'll be offering student reeds, professional reeds, oboe reed blanks, English horn reeds, English horn blanks and shaped cane for both instruments. You can get to the shop by visiting, or by clicking the link at the top of the page. Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

New Addition!

Well, she's finally here...Charlotte Elizabeth Parker joined our family on May 11, 2013 at 4:22 PM. She weighed 8 lbs. and was 19 inches long. Our world is completely different in a wonderful way; we're all working on getting adjusted to our new lifestyle!

newest family member

Having a baby has definitely changed how I approach the oboe, reed making and teaching. I started teaching again about 6 weeks after Charlotte was born, and I still don't completely feel like I'm back in the groove. I had to laugh looking back at my previous post on the challenges of pregnant reed making....for my next post I'll have to write about making reeds while baby wearing! Anyway, now that the baby is here and I'm not working at my part-time normal person job anymore, I'm really looking forward to getting going with this blog. Here's to major life changes!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pregnant Reed Making

One of the musical areas that have really been affected by being pregnant has been my reed making; to be honest, this has been a HUGE surprise for me. I guess I expected my playing to be affected, because it just seems logical, but reed making isn’t really that much more physically demanding than sitting in a chair. Turns out that it’s actually one of the most exhausting things that I do on a daily basis.
Most days when I get up from working my hips are pretty stiff, and if I’ve pushed myself past my physical and mental boundaries (this happens more frequently than I should admit) I have a lot of difficulty walking normally. To the point that my husband notices and comments on the physical changes that reed making seems to be having on me. When I push too hard, pretty much the only thing that helps is to take a warm bath.
To combat this, I’ve had to learn to get up and move around every 30 to 45 minutes while I’m working. I play with the dogs (they think pregnancy is having a positive effect!) walk around a little, get a drink, go to the bath room, etc. You’re probably thinking that this shouldn’t be that difficult to accomplish, but I’m used to working on reeds for 3-4 hours at a time and MAYBE taking one break. I’m hoping that having to do this while I’m pregnant will translate into healthier reed making habits after the baby is born.
Moving around during reed making sessions is actually helping with the other pregnancy related problem: Pregnancy Brain. I have NEVER been this distracted while making reeds. The whole time I’m working, I’m completely distracted by thoughts of sitting on the couch, reading magazines or books, surfing the internet and watching TV. Without much effort, my brain can convince me that it’s not really that important to stay and work on reeds. The small breaks really help me commit to staying focused for shorter periods of time.
Making reeds during pregnancy has definitely been a learning experience for me. It’s not just about dealing with my own mental and physical reactions. Sometimes the baby gets tired of me being in the same sitting position and she kicks in protest, which is incredibly distracting. Most of the time being kicked is a happy feeling, but during a reed making session it’s just one more thing taking up some of my focus. I’m learning to cope with the changes, and I’m sure that there are more coming in the future, but for now I feel like I’m starting to make some headway. I would love to hear from other reed makers about what worked for them, both in pregnancy and afterwards. Happy (focused) reed making!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A return and some changes...

It's been almost a year since my last post and many things have happened to me in that time. When I began this blog, I had many goals and dreams that I was on the verge of tackling. Within a few weeks of starting it, I found out I was being challenged for my chair in our local symphony. For the next few months I stopped all "extra" work and just prepared for the audition. That included my dreams, goals and this blog. I know now that that was a mistake, because I lost the audition.

It had been a very long time since I lost at anything and it hit me hard. I realize now that I was depressed, but I didn't see it at the time. Everything suffered: my studio, personal, my personal life, my relationships and my motivation for tackling new projects. I decided not to quit the symphony, but the first concert after a summer of avoiding my feelings was really tough. I still feel that it was the right decision to not quit. I feel so much more empathy for my students now when they fall short of their goals than I did before, and I think it has made me a stronger teacher.

On top of trying to heal emotionally after failure, my husband and I decided to start trying for our first baby. We found out that I was pregnant soon afterward and we are expecting our daughter in May. I'm incredibly excited about the baby, but being pregnant has really affected my reed making, teaching and playing. I'm learning ways to cope with my exhaustion and physical changes, but things are certainly different than they used to be. I'm hoping that I can share some of those coping skills here. Being a pregnant wind player isn't something that you hear people talk about very much, and I think it'd be great to have a resource with other people's experiences on the subject.

If anything, the last year has taught me to stop waiting for the stars to align before I get going with new projects. There is never going to be the perfect time, where everything is just right, and it all goes off without a hitch. My (professional) goals for this year are to learn how to balance my baby and oboe, take on more students, start selling reeds online and write on this blog at least twice a week. Will I achieve all of them? Maybe, maybe not, but it all starts now with the circumstances that I'm dealing with. No more waiting around for the ideal environment.                                                                                                  
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