What is an oboe? How To Play The Oboe For Beginners

The World Guinness Records documents oboe and French horn are the hardest instruments of all to play. But, what is an oboe? How will it fit into your solo work on the orchestra? Well, I have to state that the French horn is difficult to play but the oboe – woodwind instrument – is the hardest.

By definition, the Oboe – the treble instrument – (pronounced as OH-boh) is a woodwind instruments, double-reed mouthpiece to be specific. Well, the regular oboe would play the soprano or treble range. Notably, Oboes can be made from synthetic materials but mainly wood is the main material.

Oboe definition

In short: an oboe is a kind of reed made from 2 pieces of cane that vibrate against each other, and thus create a sound just like in other woodwind instruments such as the bassoon and English horn. 

  1. Origin of Instrument: Western Europe 
  2. Family of oboe: Double reed, Woodwinds, & Wind instrument 
  3. Invention Date: Mid 1700’s 
  4. Close relation to:  Piccolo obo & Bass oboe

Your regular soprano oboe will be about 25 12 inches (0.65 m) long and has a flared bell, a conical bore and some metal keys. The Oboe produces sounds when you blow air into the reed at an appropriate pressure, which makes it to vibrate together with the present air column. Oboe is mainly like as a solo instrument, in folk music, chamber music, orchestras, and concert bands.

History of the oboe

Oboe history & oboe music

The oboe began its life in the middle Ages like a Shan.  The oboe holds a long history. Early pictorial examples of a double reed instrument that resemble the oboe were discovered in Samaria dating back to 2800 BC.

Under the reign of arts benefactor Louis XIV, 3 names stand out that were to play an critical role in the development of the oboe: these were (1) the virtuous woodwind player of Michelle Philidor, (2) the composer Lully and (3) the family of instrument makers – Hotterre.

It is speculated that under the influence of Philidor’s playing and Lully’s writing the oboe was designed mostly by the Hotterre family. The oboe gained instantaneous popularity both indoors like sensitive instrument and outdoors like a band instrument.

Parts of the Oboe

An oboe has a long cylindrical body and some double reed. But do you know the difference between your oboe and the clarinet. Well, the oboe will have a conical one while clarinet is designed with a cylindrical bore. In this section, I will outline the key parts of an oboe for your analysis.

1. Bell

As the last section (from the 5) of the oboe, the bell is the area where sound waves (finished tone) will develop from your woodwind instrument. You’ll find the oboe’s bell at bottom end of the instrument, with different bores, weight, flares and lengths.

However, the bell is sensitive and thus you’ll want to hold it in a manner that you won’t bump the bell against any hard surfaces when it’s outside its casing.

2. Lower Joint

The join leading to the oboe’s bell is described as the lower joint.

Notably, the tone holes, rods and keys are located on the upper & lower joints and are used to produce various pitches with different keys’ combinations.

The lower joint has a conical bore inside which assists the oboe achieve the unique piercing tone.

3. Upper Joint

Oboe’s upper joint is 3rd among the 5 sections in the woodwind instrument. Notably, it lies between the lower joint and the staple.

Also, just like the lower joint, the upper joint has the tone holes, rods and keys and equally create various pitches with different key combinations being pressed.

Further, the upper joint has 2 additional keys that a player uses to activate 2 varied octave ranges: 1st octave key & 2nd octave key.

a. First Octave Key

Through similar fingering, you can use the 1st octave keys to create tones 1 & 2 octaves higher. Oboes mainly come with 2 octave keys but other have 3 such keys. When the Oboe has 2 octave keys, they’ll yield pitches ranging from A5 – C6 & E5 – G#5.

You’ll find the 1st octave key under your left hand thumb and it’s utilized to access former range. However, some modern oboes will enable the play to generate the octaves with no need of having some distinct octave key.

b. Second Octave Key

4. Finger Keys

5. The Reed

6. The Staple

 

Oboe sound and facts

How To Play the Oboe: Beginner’s Guide

Resources

1. Bibliographies & Guides to the Oboe Repertoire

2. Oboe reed investigations – University of Tasmania

3. A Study of Oboe Reeds – Grand Valley State University

I am a 36-year-old trained audio engineer, music producer, and Guitar player; passionate about all things music.

I can track bass, guitars, keyboards, and drums and can also program drums. I mix and master with high-end plugins such as Waves, Audiority, Blue Cat, HOFA, etc