Bassoon and oboe reeds are made from “arundo donax”, a dense bamboo in the grass family. It is an organic product that degrades over time, whose structure efficiently gathers, transports, and holds water.
Unfortunately for your playing career, that water also serves as a breeding ground for bacteria that want nothing more than a meal. Store your reeds dry to protect against degradation.
First of all, start out with an excellent handmade reed. Check out Tiger Reeds — they’re not ‘cheap’; they’re excellent value.
Avoid machine-made, mass produced 2×4, buzzy monstrosities — check out the reed options and try one! Visit the Reeds page to purchase.
Your reeds are turning color (darkening), developing an unpleasant odor, breaking down, becoming soft and soggy, or otherwise dramatically changing in color, and/or developing a strong odor or taste.
As mentioned in the previous reed tip, “Why should I soak my reed in water?”, bacteria from your mouth are the first step in digestion. Anaerobic bacteria do not survive or eat in the presence of oxygen and the absence of water.
Your reeds should be dried completely between playing sessions.
This should happen at a relatively fast rate — the reeds should be dry to the touch within a few minutes and in ‘crack danger’ within an hour (i.e. you could not squeeze the blades shut without concern for cracks).
A hard-sided reed case with a secure latch and air holes is the best choice. In a pinch, an Altoids can lined with paper towels will work. The case must have several large air holes in the top lid, sides, and/or bottom for adequate air exchange. The plastic vial/cap or the ‘coffin’ your reed arrived in is the worst possible choice for storing your reed — you are guaranteed to chip the corners or tip while placing it into the case, and the airtight environment is ideal for bacteria to survive and eat your reed.
Lower (or zero) chance of mold growth.
Reduced odor/taste (indicating less bacterial growth).
Longer reed life/better playing life.
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“Drying Cane” picture copyright Evelyn Simak and used by permission of [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons