By Marie A Rogers
Woodwind Techniques 1
The oboe is a soprano-range double reed instrument with a length of 62cm. Its wooden tube is distinguished by a conical bore that expands into a flaring bell. The modern oboe’s range extends from the B flat below middle C (b3 flat) to about 3 octaves higher (A6). The oboe has a very narrow conical bore. It is played with a double reed consisting of two thin blades of cane tied together on a small metal tube called a staple, which is inserted into the reed socket at the top of the instrument. Traditionally made from African Blackwood, also called grenadilla, the instrument is made in 3 parts. The top joint has 10 or 11 holes, most of which are manipulated by the players left hand. The bottom joint also has 10 holes, which are predominately controlled by the right hand. The bell has 2 keys that are not used very much by the player.
The baroque oboe first appeared in the French court in the mid-17th century, where it was called “hautbois”. This name was also used for its predecessor, the shawm. The basic form of the hautbois was derived from the shawm. Major differences between the two instruments include division into 3 sections or joints, for the hautbois, and the elimination of the pirouette, a cup placed over the reed that enabled the shawm players to produce greater volume. The latter develop more than any other, was responsible for bringing the hautbois indoors where, thanks to its more refined sound and style of playing, it took up a permanent place in the orchestra. Classical period brought upon an oboe whose bore was gradually narrowed, and the instrument became outfitted with several keys, among them were those for the notes D#, F, and G#. A key similar to the modern octave key was also added called the “slur key”. It was used more like the “flick” keys on the modern German Bassoon. Only later did French instrument makers redesign the octave key to be used in the manner of the modern key i.e. held open or upper register, closed for lower. The narrower bore allowed the higher notes to be played easier, and composers began to utilize the upper register of the oboe in their works.
Most professional oboists make their own reeds since every oboist needs a slightly different reed to suit his or her individual needs. By making their own reeds, oboists can precisely control factors such as tone color and intonation. Novice players often begin playing on “fibrecane reed” which is made of synthetic material. Fibrecane reeds are much easier for the novice to control and take a shorter amount of time to ‘break in”, and usually last longer. After learning on fibrecane reeds, which are available in several degrees of hardness, a medium reed usually being used. These reed, like Clarinet and Bassoon reeds are made of arundo donax.
Different types of Oboes
The oboe has several family members. The most widely known today is the Cone Anglais or English Horn, the tenor (or alto) member of the family. A transposing instrument, it is pitched in F, a perfect 5th lower than the oboe. The Oboe d’ Amore the alto (or mezzo soprano) member of the family, is pitched in A, a minor 3rd lower than the Oboe. A less commonly played instrument is the Bass Oboe which is an octave lower than the oboe. Even less common is the Hecklephone, which has a wider bore and larger tone than the bass oboe. Only 165 hecklephones have ever been made. Its hard to find competent players because of the rarity of the instrument. The least common is the mussette or (piccolo oboe), the sopranino member of the family (usually pitched in Eflat or F above the oboe), and the Contrabass Oboe ( typically pitched in C, 2 octaves deeper than the standard oboe).
Bassoon is a member of the double-reed family, and generally plays in the bass and tenor registers. The bassoon plays most commonly in concert...