The problems listed below are some common causes coupled with some common solutions-- they are by no means the ONLY causes or solutions. I usually look for these first. Being an oboe player, I can usually fix these problems with a screwdriver. I do not suggest this for most people. Adjusting one pad will usually affect another, and then you're in real trouble. When your oboe needs repair or adjustment I strongly suggest that you take/send it to an oboe specialist.
high notes come out too low when the octave key is pressed--
Sometimes this is just a reed problem. If the opening of the reed
is too wide or if the reed is too hard, it will not hold the octave.
Also, check to see if there is water in the key. The opening of
the octave key is very small and traps water easily.
Let's face it-- oboe reeds are the bane of my existence, and yours too if you have an oboe player in your band. I can't even begin to tell you how to adjust a reed if it isn't perfect, but I can give you some tips on choosing them.
Buy from an oboe specialist-- When you buy a reed from your local music store, chances are it is a mass produced, machine-made reed. Chance dictates that you will get a decent reed every once in awhile. But more often than not, and correct me if I'm wrong here, you'll have a substandard reed. And you probably paid over $10.00 for it. Reeds from oboe specialty shops are hand made. Many offer "student" reeds, or quantity discounts. The prices range from $8.00 for a student reed to $14.00 for an advanced reed. Even if the price is higher than your local music store, you've got a much better chance of getting a better reed. I would suggest ordering two or three reeds from different companies, and have your students tell you which ones work the best.
Look at the reeds-- If you're in a pinch and MUST buy from a music store, look at the reed. The finished length of the reed should be 70 mm (for those of you who carry a ruler around in your shirt pocket). If it is longer, it will be flat. If it is shorter, it will be sharp. Also, look into the opening of the blades. If one blade is flat and the other is curved, don't buy it. Is the opening too wide? It will be very hard to play and probably flat. Is it too closed? It will be too easy to play and probably sharp (and will last about two days).
the reed up to a light-- Hold it just in front of the light
in such a way that you can see through the blades of the reed. You
can usually spot a crack this way (it will look like a dark vertical
line). You can also tell if the reed is handmade this way. The machine
made reed will start dark and progressively get lighter.
made reed will have definite areas-- windows, spine, rails, a heart,
and a tip.
Look at both blades of the reed. If they don't look exactly alike, the reed will probably not be very stable, and therefor a bad choice. Symmetry is everything!
Look at the sides of the reed-- If the blades do not touch, the reed will leak. If a student has a leak on the side of the reed, there are two ''quick fixes". If you happen to have "fish skin" (it's an oboe supply), apply that up to the point of the leak. You can also apply a very light, thin layer of clear fingernail polish up to the point of the leak. Make sure the polish is completely dry before playing! Also, check to see if the blades are "slipped" (one blade to the left or right of the other). Some oboists prefer slipped blades. The point to slipping blades is to make sure the reed doesn't leak, but I have found this causes more problems than it fixes.
Reed Secret-- If you have a really good reed, but it is really old and starting to "die", there is a last resort quick fix. This procedure is highly controversial amongst the oboists of the world, but hey, it works for me. Here it is-- Soak the reed in peroxide instead of water. This sort of cleanses the "gunk" out of the reed, and gives it one last play before you have to give it the wall test. It also damages the reed, so it's a "one time, last resort, desperate move" fix. Use sparingly!
Because there is no mouthpiece, and the reed is so small, many young oboists come up with some very interesting embouchures! To help them achieve the correct embouchure, here are a couple of tips I give them.