Quick guide to popular Oboes

The Oboe

The oboe is also known as the “hautbois” or “hoboy” or high wood in French. Hoboy literally meant loud or strong wood.   It is mostly made of rosewood or ebony or box wood. It used to be known as the Swawm, a powerful outdoor instrument used for ceremonial purposes. Some people considered it as a violent sounding instrument.

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The History of the Oboe Instrument

The oboe appeared in the mid-1700s and introduced by Jacques Hotteterre and Michel Philidor as an indoor instrument that can be played with other instruments. It had only two keys and its compass was two octaves above the middle C and is capable of beyond C to a high F. This new oboe sounded softer compared to the newer models.  In the 19th Century, upgrades and improvements occurred in manufacture and metal pillars were introduced to replace wooden ridges where the keys are mounted. This allowed for a freer movement of air. Then in 1839, more keys were introduced making a total of 10. Eventually, a narrower reed was introduced and by the 20th century, the oboe became more expressive, versatile, and wider playing in the treble and soprano range.  Although it is still being manufactured in wood, some oboes are now made of synthetic materials.

And then it gained the position of principal wood wind instrument for orchestra, military and school bands and often a leading solo instrument. New models now have plates where finger holes once were located.  The many-keyed oboe appeared in Germany before it did in France. Improvements on the bore and reed resulted in a louder sound that the military found to be perfect. Beethoven ignored it but in the 19th century, Richard Strauss composed music for it. That gave it popularity.

The oboe is often compared to a “clear and penetrating” human nasal voice with a pitch higher than the 3 double reed instruments in a classical orchestra. . It can be majestic with a lovely timbre within the range of soprano. Often orchestras are tuned to the oboe that has a secure sound.  The cane as well as the construction materials used to construct the oboe does not easily cause variations in pitch. By subtly manipulating the embouchure and the air blown into the mouthpiece, the oboe may be adjusted to conform to the orchestra’s pitch.

How the reed was made determines the playability of the oboe. A well made reed plus good control of the lips and mouth create great sound. There are a lot of ready-made reeds but professional players make their own reeds…one which resembles a bamboo and which grows in warm places. An oboe player is called an oboist.


Different Kinds of Oboe:

1. The English Horn resembles Bach’s Oboe de Caccia

2. The Oboe d’amore, with a globular bell, was used by Bach.

3. The Hautbois Baryton is heavy on the low tones

4. Double reed woodwinds where the oboe is a generic name.

Size: An oboe is a little longer than 2 feet and with metal keys, a flared or globular bell, and a conical bore. The player blows air into the reed and this vibrates with the air column. The sound is considered bright and when used as a solo instrument, it is considered a treble instrument. It is now often a concert and chamber instrument and occasionally heard in folk music.


Tips for Buying an Oboe:

1.     When buying anything as important as an oboe, bring your teacher, a professional or an expert with you…one who is preferably an expert in double reed musical instruments. You can refer to them also when you want to buy online.

2.     Perhaps rent out an oboe and use it for a few days like a week to familiarize yourself with the instrument.

3.     Shipping costs when buying instruments online will be around $50 – quite expensive. It is always better to seek advice before shelling out money.

4.     Buy a copy or more of Double Reed, a quarterly publication of the International Double Reed Society. It will give you advise and point you to recommended music stores, and to those that you ought to avoid.

5.     Cheap does not always mean good. So when you see a bargain, watch out.

6.     Professional Oboes may cost you up to $10,000. Of course, you can used oboes for much much less.

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