Reeds: The Bane of Our Existence – Lecture by Richard MacDowell and Brian Hermanson

reedClassRichard MacDowell and Brian Hermanson’s presentation both educated and entertained the packed theater. The lecture discussed making reeds as well as adjustment, care, and maintenance of both commercial and handmade reeds. Their witty, nonchalant, engaging presentation had the audience laughing throughout!

The lecture began with an overview of cane, specifically describing the three layers of cane. It was noted that good cane needs an ideal amount of vascular bundles (the small “circles” you see at the butt/heel of a reed when wet).

Dr. MacDowell then presented a video of the reed making process from tube cane. When one learns to complete the process efficiently, it generally takes 7-9 minutes per reed. A reed plaque and double beveled knife were suggested for safety during this process.

Mr. Hermanson continued the presentation with photos and a description of reed anatomy and offered three basic components to reed adjustment: (1) good materials, (2) the golden rule — have patience; the break-in process can be different for each person, and (3) learn as much about each reed and its response before trying to change it. It was noted that when using commercially made reeds, be sure they have stabilized before working on them. Both MacDowell and Hermanson note this process can be different for each person and that the key message is to find and do what works for you. Mr. Hermanson noted that at the end of the day it is truly about psychology: what you believe works.

Whether your reeds are handmade or commercial make sure you have an ideal sound in mind, establish a consistent space to test them in, and be careful not to overadjust. It is essential to know the environment you are playing in so you do not mistakenly adjust the reed when it is really the room creating the concern. Remember to play, look, and feel by hand as you make adjustments.

This presentation definitely gives food for thought, whether you make your own reeds or not. For a copy of the full presentation, please contact Dr. MacDowell ( or Mr. Hermanson (

–Notes by Senior Airman Jennifer M. Daffinee
Jennifer is a member of the United States Air Force Band of the West and is also finishing her DMA at the University of North Texas with Kimberly Cole Luevano.


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