How to get started on the oboe, a beginner’s guide

Congratulations, the oboe is a wonderful instrument that will allow you to play beautiful music, help you learn a lot about life. To help your transition into oboe-hood go as smoothly as possible, this short guide will cover the following topics. 

  1. How to put the oboe together
  2. Caring for your oboe
  3. How to sit/stand when playing the oboe
  4. Where your fingers go
  5. How to breath 
  6. Playing your first notes. 

Anatomy of the oboe

Most oboes are divided in three parts. The top joint, the middle joint and the bell. (Some oboists refer to the middle joint as the bottom joint).

Different oboes may have more or less keys depending on the maker and the level of instrument. Professional oboes will have more keys and vents than beginner oboes. The keys rotate around rods that may be encased in silver or nickel sleeves and the rods are held to the body of the instrument by posts. Most keys can be adjusted by screws, but use caution when adjusting the oboe yourself. Each key needs to be in balance with another key in a network and should be screwed or unscrewed by an experienced hand. 

Notice the bell may have a key or even two holes that are opened by a lever that sticks out at the top. This is the bridge key of the bell. The bridge keys need to line up between the different joints so the oboe can function properly and your efforts are not wasted. Be careful with the bridge keys by not squeezing or pressing them against each other during assembly. Bent bridge keys can seriously compromise the functionality of your instrument. 



diagram of the oboe parts and keys.

Assembling the oboe

 The most important thing to be careful of when putting the oboe together is to avoid putting pressure on the keys or rods with your hands. Gently hold but do not squeeze the oboe. In the same vein, there are bridge keys that stick out at the ends of the joints that need to be lined up with their composite parts on the connecting joint. Make sure they line up smoothly and don’t bump into or press into each other during assembly. Before you put the oboe together make sure there is some cork grease on the tenon corks so the pieces can be connected smoothly.  

Now its time to get the bell and mid joint out of the case. Holding the midjoint by the thumb rest, and the bell anchored on your lap, slowly press the mid joint into the bell. Be mindful that the bridge keys line up as described above. 

Next, the top joint can be held from the top which is vacant of any keys or rods. Again anchor the bell in your lap and lower the top joint into the middle joint. Carefully line up the bridge keys as you press.  

Now that your oboe is together you may like to practice taking it apart. This occurs in reverse order with the bell coming off first followed by the top joint. If you are a beginner you may like to practice this a few times so it becomes second nature to you. 

Caring for your oboe

The oboe needs to be swabbed out after every hour of playing to avoid too much water collecting in the bore. If too much moisture stays in the oboe for too long the oboe can swell in certain places and crack. 

About once every six months, the oboe should be maintained by a trained technician. There are many skilled technicians around the country and I have compiled a list of some of the best here.

Often music stores may have a general repair person who does not specialize in double reed instruments. They may be able to do basic maintenance, but be waray. Many of the keys of the oboe are balanced against one another and do not seal independently as is the case for most of the flute or clarinet keys. A generalist may not have the experience needed to fine tune the adjustments on your oboe .

Periodically, the adjustments may need to get tweaked. If notes on your oboe suddenly do not work it may just be slightly out of adjustment. An oboe teacher should be able to help keep your oboe functioning at its best in between maintenance periods.

Make sure to store your oboe in the case in a cool dry place.

Posture is Important for Playing the Oboe

The oboe can be  a difficult instrument to play, but good posture can make the instrument feel easier and mroe enjoyable. The oboe requires a lot more strength than even larger instruments so make sure your spine and libs are arranged in a way to give you strength and stability in an efficient way. The book Oboe Motions by Caplan really illuminates aspects of posture that are not at all obvious to most players. Even some professional players have bad postural habits that ultimately limit their career.  Check out the photos below to help find a posture that will help you play the oboe well. 

Notice the relaxed position of the shoulders and the neutral position of the head and neck. 

Stand up with a natural curve to the spine

Hand Position on the Oboe

Technique on the oboe requires efficiency of movement. The fingers should be gently curved and in a relaxed position. 

The thumb rest sits on the right hand thumb between the nail and the first knuckle. Experiment with the rotation of the wrist and forearm to find a comfortable angle that allows you to curve the fingers. The strength to support the oboe should come from the bicep and not from the neck. See the photo below for an example.  

Breath life into your oboe

The sounds of the oboe are completely dependent on the breath. Through the breath you create wind which creates the sound through the instrument. Remember to breath deeply as you inhale and expand your lower torso. The shoulders, neck, and jaw  should stay relaxed as you inhale. 

As you exhale you will need to engage the core and be sensitive to the intensity of the air stream you are producing. By energizing the exhale with the lower torso/belly/abs you can create a very fast air stream!  

The First Notes and Songs

Before you attempt to play anything on the oboe make sure you are able to hear music in your mind. Having a vision for the sounds you intend to produce will guide you development as an oboist far smoother than simply following instructions. 

In the video below I guide you through the first few fingerings and tunes. 

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