Oboe Overview

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OBOE Parts & Assembly Parts

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An overview of the Oboe and related pedagogical techniques intended for pre-service music educators and those in need of a little review.

Transcript of Oboe Overview

OBOEParts & AssemblyParts

http://myorch.org/sites/default/files/Parts_of_Oboe_Scrollworks.jpgAssembly1. Put the case on a flat, stable surface, with the latches pointing down. Open the case.2. Take the upper joint by the section that has no keys or rods in your right hand, and the lower joint by the section that has no keys in your left. Gently twist the two pieces together, taking care not to bend the bridge keys. The bridge keys should be aligned at this point.3. Gently twist the bell onto the lower joint, again taking care not to bend the keys. The bell key lever should align with the bell key at this time.4. Soak the reed, and then gently twist the cork of the reed all the way into the reed socket. Tuning is not achieved through adjustment of the reed position in the instrument, so be sure the reed is fully inserted. The reed should be orientated so that the broad side lays flat against the players lip when the oboe is in playing position.

Care & Maintenance Daily Care Clean the oboe with a soft, clean swab after each playing session. Drop the weight of the swab down the bell of the instrument and pull it all the way through. Store the reed in a reed case to avoid excessive moisture, which can lead to mold and warping. Maintenance Grease the cork joints of the instrument if they become stiff or hard to move. Put a small amount of cork grease on the joint, and use your fingers to spread it around to avoid over-application. If the oboe keywork goes out of alignment, take it to a double read repair specialist. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO ADJUST SCREWS/KEYS/RODS ALONE!

Playing Posture & Hand PositionThe goal of a proper oboe set-up is to allow an uninterrupted air column from lungs to bell. To achieve this, the player must sit up straight and balance their head on top of their spine, looking neither up nor down, then bring the oboe to themself rather than themself to the oboe. The oboe should be held at a comfortable angle, which is a little less than 45.


Many middle and high school students play with too-flat fingers, which limits technical dexterity and can lead to tendonitis and other unfun things. Correct oboe hand position should be slightly flat from the first to second knuckle, and curved from the second to the tips of the fingers.


Embouchure1) Say TOW, and keep that mouth position2) Center the reed on the bottom lip, cradling it like a small child3) Pull all four corners of the mouth in (i.e. tighten lips like a drawstring)Correct Oboe Embouchure

https://barbaratheoboe.wordpress.com/2007/09/11/the-right-embouchure/ Pink of lips visible Flat chin Not pinching/clamping down on reed Firm lips

Incorrect Oboe Embouchure

https://barbaratheoboe.wordpress.com/2007/09/11/the-right-embouchure/ Lips wrapped too far over teeth No pink of lips visible Crushing reed Bunched chin


Articulation1. Play a long tone on which to practice articulation2. Touch the tip of the tongue (one taste bud) to the tip of the reed and withdraw3. Imagine saying too or tah on the reed

Articulation is achieved when the tongue leaves the reed when in contact, the reed cannot vibrate and therefore cannot make sound. Beware of students articulating with the throat/glottal stops Watch out for students using too much tongue/too large a motion for tonguing


http://webspace.webring.com/people/hf/flutepower55/breathing.gif Proper breathing results when there is an unobstructed pathway from the bottom of the torso all the way through the body and into the oboe. This can only be achieved through correct posture. A proper breath should result in the slight expansion of all sides of the torso and chest though students should not be tensing their shoulders or raising their chests/shoulders in an exaggerated way, they also should not be unnaturally still. Breathing is a movement, and requires loose, relaxed muscles. If students are becoming lightheaded, experiencing dramatic backpressure, or are unable to sustain tone for more than a few notes, there is often an embouchure problem. Direct the student to use a cool, focused stream of air that starts at the bottom of their lungs and goes all the way through the bell of the oboe. Be aware of playing against oneself the support and self-created abdominal resistance needed to not pass out from back-pressure. Much like bassoon, the abdomen must be constantly engaged in the process of tone production. This action helps take some of the pressure off the embouchure/tiny reed opening, and will allow for longer phrases/proper breathing.

ToneMuch of an oboists tone is determined by the reed. See Reed section for more information.


ReedsReeds are arguably the most important part of the oboe, affecting tone, intonation, and general playability. Commercial reeds are generally not great, and students should try to get their reeds from local professionals or their teachers. Oboists will learn to make their own reeds if they become serious about music and the oboe.

Bad Reeds!!!Does My Student Have One?By Henry Mulligan

The father of American oboe playing: Marcel Tabuteau, was famous for inventing the long scrape or American Scrape oboe reed, as opposed to the European/short scrape, which produces a vastly different sound.

After popularizing the American scrape, he became selective of who his students were. When his students first played for him, and if it went really well, he would either take the reed and keep it for himself, or break it right in front of them. He would explain this behavior by saying, you played that on a good read, now you must learn to play on a bad reed!

Why is it important to have a good reed?

Tabuteau makes a good point. Many oboists will get bogged down with how perfect their reed could be and put less effort into producing a good tone, articulation, or expressive range. This is extremely typical for beginning oboists who are switching reeds and claiming the previous one was better, beginning reed makers who have to break away from reeds made by others and begin playing their own messed-up creations, and every oboist ever because we all have standards for a good reed. Working past the typical oboe baggage and learning to problem solve is important for every oboist.

But even though there are legitimate complications with the instrument and the musical demand, there are pitfalls that can have short term and long term incurable consequences. Things like:

Biting, jaw strain/pain, tension in the shoulders, neck, or other places in the body, poor stamina per phrase and per day, uncommon intonation problems, poor dynamic range, poor tone, limited access into the high range, uncontrolled articulation, lack of musical control, and more!!!!

These pitfalls can happen without bad reeds, but a bad reed will encourage bad habits to a point where it will take months or years to get over something because you thought you could just work past it. The worst part is, is that most students dont learn how to properly select reeds until college, and it takes all 4 years or longer to master it (it is slowed down by learning to make the reeds themselves, which is a time consuming, expensive, and almost folk-arty way that often sends mixed signals to those learning).

All instruments, not just oboes, are made in such a way the human body (with practice) can produce the desired sound the way it is. Instruments are built in equilibrium with the body, thats why mouthpieces are usually the same approximate size and only vary with practical purpose. Its also why your instrument plays in tune, and you can play more than one note at a time, and why after thousands of years of musical innovation lead to your instrument being built the way it is. The reed is the instrument, and is as equally significant as any of the keys, or pads, or joints, or the bore itself. If your instrument were broken, why would you refuse to get it fixed, and tell yourself to tough it out, or work through it.

Back to the big question, how can I tell if this is a bad reed?

There are a couple of obvious things you can check such as:

Does the reed have a visible crack? yes toss it no matter what

Do the two blades touch (dry or soaked)? no then toss it no matter what

Is my student (who can make sound on many other reeds easily) having trouble making a sound that is not typical, and is doing unnatural and/or unneccesarily difficult things to make a sound? yes toss it no matter what

Would you describe it as unreasonably out of tune in every register? yes toss it unless you know a private teacher or pro oboist who can adjust it

Does it sound more like the quacking of an angry tortured duck and the student has been playing more than 4 years? yes toss it, unless you didnt by it from a factory and know somebody who can adjust reeds

The rest will take some explaining, and some identification on your part.

Looseness: The Secret Killer of Reeds

Reeds are made of cane, which looks like bamboo and can grow in any climate because it is a weed. They look like theyre straight from a distance, but looking closer you see that every piece of cane you will ever find will have a curve to it. Sometimes the bad cane is obvious and reed makers will refuse to use it over their dead body, other times they will let it slide and make a reed anyway. This allowance could be due to a lack of skill with selecting good pieces (yes its a learned skill) or too high of a demand for reeds/cane to care what they send out into this cruel, cruel world. Many things can cause a loose reed, but 9 times out of 10, it is bad cane that frowns (as opposed to smiling). Reeds are made through the bending of a thinned piece in half, and you either used a smiley piece or a frowny piece. If it smiles, the blades press against each other via their own natural curve. If it frowns, then the natural curve of the cane will separate the blades for as long as they exist. Mechanically its like having a mouthpiece that gets physically bigger the more you play it. Cane will always remember its natural tendencies. This is why you must throw away any reed whose blades dont touch, dry or soaked. Its not always the makers fault though, dont blame them right away, but tell them so. Sometimes it happens in the mail because of weather conditions during shipment, especially in the winter, occasionally in the summer. This might also cause them to crack on the way, leaving you with one less reed even before you receive it. If one reed is loose or cracked after 2 or 3 orders than its likely weather is the culprit. If its almost the whole batch more than once, stop ordering from them. Either theyre terrible, or theres nothing they can do about the crazy weather. There are some teachers that will promote the squishing of a reeds opening, or breaking it in over a period of time to change the opening size to make them fit. They are idiots, or they have never listened to the emotionally frantic ravings of a true oboist. That only works with big openings where the blades still touch, and even then this solution is a temporary figment of their imagination. Remember, Cane will always remember its natural tendencies, and the opening will open right back up no matter how much squishing you do.

Why have I dubbed looseness as the secret killer? Because it is rare that a student has been heard of a loose reed until college. Learning this is usually followed by a time in their life where they reflect on all the reeds they can remember and feel worse and worse as they realize how many of them were loose reeds that they couldve just thrown away. Its like learning Santa isnt real. So if you still are wondering why most oboists before college sound that way, its because nobody taught them how to pick a reed. Odds are theyre telling them to adjust like crazy on a terrible reed that a professional wouldnt give to their worst enemy. Just got to hope that they got a good one. Some parents will also be adamant that they paid for the reed, and now theyre obligated to use it and get their moneys worth. Tell them its like buying and using a broken wheelchair, or driving with a flat tire, or eating an apple you discovered was rotten while eating it and thinking, I have to keep going now.

Not all looseness, or faults in general, is so blatant as blades not touching. It shows in playing, if nowhere else, and can be found through a series of tests. These tests show a slew of other problems, but overall they will show you when the droopy and un-tamable qualities of a loose reed

The reed tests:

These tests, most popularly taught by the oboists Linda Strommen (of IU) and Elaine Duvas (of not IU). Their main purpose is to determine the next step in the process of reed making. I am repurposing them to help you decide if your students have good reeds or not. If you are buying reeds made by people the odds are that these will be accounted for and you are fine. But not all people make all perfect reeds, and factory made reeds have almost no standard upon completion. Only perform these tests if the student sounds uncharacteristically bad, otherwise they must learn to do them on their own. The instrument must also not have any problems of its own that would interfere with the tests, such as pad problems, water in the keys, or cracks in the bore. If youre unsure about repair needs, have a professional look at it, or perform the tests with a reed that you know is good the first time aroundThese tests must be performed with as little compensation as possible, so play as low in your voicing, and with as little pitch manipulation as possible. A good method is to start in normal playing position, and then make it as flat as possible while in that position. This is called finding the reeds Pitch Floor (the point at which the reed cannot play any flatter). Remember: youre checking to see how bad the reed could possibly be during a concert, not how good you can force it to be. Dont do anything you wouldnt do in a concert, and make it musical

1. Aspirated Attack- finger a High C and blow air into the instrument without making any sound. Slowly put more effort into it until it makes a sound. Do the same thing on a low D. The ideal reed should be able to make a sound with as little wind as possible while still being in tune. You should be able to hold it up to the wind and make a sound with it (but not really thats impossible). They should also be in tune at the easiest resistance, and while playing normally in all dynamic ranges. There is wiggle room here, but not much. Too resistant and you cant play quietly, or get that proper oboe poise. Everything will sound hard and flat-footed, and manipulating tuning will be impossible.A good reed maker can adjust (if its not loose)This is probably the least musical of the tests2. The Crow- this tests the pitch center of the reed, and will explain pitch problems and Crowing a reed is when you take the reed alone and peep it with your lips closer to the thread (while still holding onto the reed). With a good embochure, low voicing, and good air focus, you should be able to get octave Cs or C#s to come out. This might take practice for you or your student, and its a good way to warm up before playing. It must be a C or C#. If its a B than it will be too flat to play, and if its a D it will be too hard and sharp to play. C# is for oboes built more naturally in the sharp end of the spectrum, and C is for the flatter oboe. If the crow isnt playing octaves two things can happen. First- it could be rattly and sound more like a bassoon crow than tuned octaves. It this happens then it must be thrown away. It will never work no matter who works on it because its loose. If it doesnt crow at all (and your student and you definitely can on other reeds) than there is not enough lows in the reed and reaching low notes will be near impossible. You will crack notes A and below.A good reed maker can adjust (if its not loose)3. Octave Slurs- the ultimate test of stabilityWith no adjustment and minimal effort, play an A and slur up the octave by simply leaning on the side octave key. Do this exercise with all of the notes in this group ascending chromatically: High A, Bb, B, and C.Those octaves should be perfectly in tune in an ideal reed. There is some wiggle room, but the flatter the high A is, the harder it will be to use vibrato, tune, retain tone, articulate, and change dynamic with anything that plays above an F. Biting is definitely likely if this reed fails the testA good reed maker can adjust (if its not loose)4. Hard Tonguing- tests pitch and articulation easeTongue as hard as you can on the oboe with these notes: ascending chromatically: E, F, F#, and G; and this group: High A, Bb, B, and C.An out of tune reed will make those droop like crazy, or it will play them all sharp and pointy. Tuning manipulation is possible, but like the octave slur test, it will make you do a lot of work that is unnecessary and will damage good technique. This could be a sign of minor loosenessCheck also the ease of articulation. Without reed making skills theres no way to fix hard articulation, but naturally youre looking for easy controllable tonguingA good reed maker can adjust (if its not loose)5. Playing Position Peep- another pitch testThis is also done with the reed alone. Simply take the reed and use your normal embouchure. Find the position on the reed your lips will be when you play things normally, and simply make a sound. This should tune to a B natural or a C. Some people can get a Bb to work, but only for so long before it gets too hard to support and rise in pitch. A good reed maker can adjust (if its not loose)6. 3 Note Slurs- this tests the cane qualities effect on the toneSlur from C to B in the midrange. The more connected and smooth it sounds the better the cane was. The more pointy, jagged, and grating it sounds the worse the cane quality was in terms of fiber thickness and hardness. Check also high G to high A with the octave. This is a natural break in the instrument, and requires tuning adjustment between the mid range and high ranges. Like the octave test, this should be easy, but will still vary from reed to reed. If cane quality is bad, you must work harder for the toneSlur from low A to low G, the other break in the instrument. This tests the reeds reach into the low range, and if there is any flatness inherent in the cane, or tone shallowness and sharpness due to the limit of an under-scraped reed (see crow test). The only test that usually cant be adjusted for because it is the final test in the sequence and is more of an indicator of what youre stuck with

Finally if all else fails, and there are still response problems and more theres probably a leak

Reeds, weather theyre loose or not, can be incorrectly tied together, or misshaped in the early stages of reed making. The blades can be completely tight (and not loose) and still there will be a gap on the sides, usually near the thread. Gaps can also be along the sides towards the top opening because of mistakes while prepping the cane. You can check this by covering the bottom of the reed at the cork with your finger, and blowing in the reed. If there is no leak, and the reed is good, you will just sit there trying to blow through it and no air will escape. If there is a leak, you will feel and/or hear air coming from where ever the leak is. Quite obviously you will feel the air from the outside with your other hand, and from the blowing, which wouldnt be possible if the reed was good. There is a cure for some leaks, beeswax and/or fish skin. If you dont make reeds and have no private teacher, than you dont have either one and dont know how to use either. Throw it out.

Final note, dont ever buy an oboe reed with wire on it. The maker likely ended up with an opening too small to play on and had to squish it open. It will never sound easy and will always be shrill, always lack vibrato, and always be a pain to control and play delicately.

EquipmentTypical equipment for the middle and high school oboist includes Oboe and hard case Cleaning swab Pad paper/cigarette paper Small screwdriver (jewelers screwdriver) Reeds and reed case Metronome Tuner

If a student is studying reed making (which is not common at this level), typical equipment includes Reed knives and sharpening stones Razor blades Mandrel Cutting block Plaques Ruler Cane Thread

Playing Considerations

Special ConsiderationsIf at all possible, young oboists should absolutely take lessons with a professional. Because the oboe is uncommonly complex, students often have trouble progressing as quickly as their peers in band, and can easily become demoralized. Having them work with a teacher will help them develop correct habits, provide them with good-quality reeds, and help them learn to adjust the oboes delicate key work if needed.