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Oboe FAQ's

Frequently Asked Questions

Oboe FAQ’s is one of the most popular parts of our ‘Beginner’s Guide To Learning The Oboe’ series.  And please remember; sign up for 4 Feature Friday

Oboe Faq'S

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What is an English horn and how does it differ from an oboe?

The oboe and the English horn (or Cor Anglais as it is often called) are cousins, meaning they’re from the same family instruments. They’re not directly derived from each other or are operated in a similar enough way to be considered “siblings.” The English horn itself, unlike the oboe, is considered an auxiliary instrument because of this connection. It’s also about one and a half times larger than the oboe, and features a distinct pear shaped bell. The English horn is more known for its mellow tone, which makes it a good instrument to play mournful, melancholic solos. 

What’s the difference between a clarinet and an oboe?

It’s easy to mistake an oboe for a clarinet and vice versa if you don’t know what the individual instruments look like. They have a rather similar overall design, but the differences run deep inside each instrument. They use different types of reeds, for one. Also, the oboe is considered a staple and doesn’t have a mouthpiece and a barrel which the clarinet has both. Other than that, the instruments look pretty much identical to the untrained eye. 

Which is higher: the clarinet or oboe?

The clarinet can only reach one semitone higher than an oboe with the two instruments’ nominal ranges. However, it is the low pitched notes where the clarinet really reigns free, with the ability to play considerably lower notes than the oboe.


What does a routine oboe servicing session entail?

When you drop your oboe off for servicing, there are several things that always happen as part of the process. Once the technician gets your instrument, he will begin to clean it thoroughly, then proceed to oiling its important mechanisms. Parts such as the octave vents will also be cleaned and sealed, and others such as worn or missing bumper/tenon corks will be repaired/replaced. The technician will also adjust the instrument accordingly so it seals well. 

How do I take care of an oboe?

After every single performance or practice session, you must always, always swab it after taking it apart. Like any other woodwind instrument, an oboe’s biggest enemy is moisture buildup and your own bodily secretions. If you let those build up on the inside of your instrument, they will cause damage to the most integral parts by perpetuating corrosion. You should also grease out the oboe’s joints to keep them loose, but remember to always use cork grease instead of anything else! We recommend you buy an Oboe care kit if you’re unsure of what you need to take care of your beloved instrument.

How do you oil an oboe?

Take the upper joint of the oboe with one hand, making sure that the keys are facing up. Put about 4 to 5 drops of bore oil into the bore at the centre tenon. Then place the feather in the bore, sliding it back and forth to distribute the oil throughout the inside evenly. Make sure that the oil is properly distributed, and see with your own eye if you need more oil. Because oiling an oboe for the first time with a brand new feather might mean that the feather soaks up more oil than it distributes. 


I don’t sound good. Is it my instrument or do I just need to practise more?

It can be both, actually. The instrument can fail (especially the reed) and it would be hard to track that if you’re not already keeping a frame of reference on whether the instrument has been performing or sealing well lately. Make sure to have your oboe adjusted every 4 to 6 months for the best performance possible. If you’ve been taking good care of your instrument, however, then it’s definitely your skills being rusty and out of practice! Time, then,  to improve your oboe technique and get down to some regular practice!

Why is the oboe hard to learn?

One thing that beginners might struggle with an oboe is its weight. It features heavier, denser wood to support its delicate keywork and mechanisms without cracking. You can add the keywork’s weight itself to the wood, too. Aside, from that, the fingering technique might seem counterintuitive: to move up in pitch, you have to lower a finger, and vice versa. This gives the oboe much less approachability compared to instruments like the clarinet or the flute. This also means that if you really want to learn how to play the oboe, you’ll need to work twice as hard to master its intricacies. 

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General Oboe FAQs

What is an oboe exactly?

The oboe is an instrument in the woodwind instrument family, putting it in the same class as the clarinet and the flute. It often features a certain type of wood called grenadilla, as well as silver keys. The most notable feature of an oboe is its double reed, which helps give it a very distinct and clear sound that you won’t get with other woodwind instruments. Wind ensembles and orchestras often feature the oboe, wherein they tend to always play the tuning note for the entire group. This is because the Oboe is the instrument least susceptible to its tuning being affected by humidity or other climatic conditions.

Is the oboe the hardest instrument to play?

Not the hardest instrument per se, but frankly the most difficult to learn of all the woodwind instruments. Beginners will take quite a while to learn how to produce a sound on it, and a good sound at that. They might still be learning how to make the oboe produce a sound while the rest of their peers are already playing along to sheet music. And when they eventually make a sound, it can be difficult to control that in itself. You should n’t be put off, though because the Oboe makes a unique and beautiful sound and is an instrument always in demand.

Oboe Faq'S
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