How to: high notes on the oboe (Fingerings and tips for the 2nd/3rd octave with video tutorial)
How do you get high notes out on the oboe? When you learn a new fingering for a high note on the oboe it can be tempting to blow really hard and squeeze the note out with your hands and face. This is often counter productive. The note should speak if you let the reed vibrate at the correct frequency so to get the high notes out make sure you go through the following list which will be discussed further below.
- Keep the structure of the embouchure firm
- Keep the jaw open and relaxed
- Take a little more reed in the mouth/move the embouchure closer to the thread
- Keep your hands relaxed
- This is key: voice the note with your tongue and throat
- Blow fast air
What is the highest note on the oboe?
Most repertoire for the oboe stays below an F’’ 2 ledger lines above the staff, but professional players may be asked to play up to a G 3 ledger lines above the staff. If you are willing to put your teeth on the reed all notes up to a Altisimo C (just above 4 ledger lines above the staff) are possible.
Fingerings for the high register
A quick word about the 2nd octave on the oboe:most of the second octave fingerings are the same as in the first octave with a mechanism to help it jump up the octave. It is important to be comfortable with the mechanism for each notes.
D and Eb are fingered the same in the first two octaves but add the half hole for the second octave
F-Ab use the first octave key or thumb octave key
G- C use the second octave key or side octave key
D’’-G’’ are fingered as described in the image below.
Here is video tutorial to help with the high range of the oboe!
Why are the high notes not working?
The most common issue for students learning the high notes is that they squeeze their hands on the oboe which causes them to slip off the correct fingering. They may lose tactile awareness and be missing some components of the fingering completely. Be sure to keep your hands loose and be very aware of what is actually being pressed when learning these fingerings.
Another common issue is that students will collapse the embouchure in an effort to blow their brains out. The higher register requires a faster more focused airstream, but blowing harder is not always the best way to accomplish this. If you find yourself blowing so hard that your face muscles are not able to hold their position then the airstream can not be focused and the high notes will not come out. Biting the reed with the jaw may eek out a high note, but it will most probably be very sharp and shrill. To read more about oboe embouchure you can check out this article on the topic by clicking here.
Instead of biting and forcing, examine the position of the tongue and the voicing of your throat. In general the higher registers are very sensitive to tongue placement for intonation and color. The tongue needs to have the strength and flexibility to rise in the mouth (up and back) further than in the lower registers.
Each note will have a particular position that works best and you should work to be able to taste the note before it speaks. The exact placement of the tongue and throat will bring reliability to your high range.
The high registers will require the player to roll in the top lip slightly so there is more reed in the embouchure. Each note will require a special position and each reed will be slightly different. With experience you can taste or feel where each note needs to be placed.
To practice this, work on some reed alone exercises. Playing just on the reed try to glissando between a C and a C#. Use a drone or a tuner to ensure accuracy. The high notes on the oboe will be closer to the C# in positioning.
Super high notes: playing in the Altissimo range
The notes between A and C above 3 ledger lines above the staff are rare but need not be extremely difficult. As discussed above, control of the tongue throat, embouchure, and wind are crucial for execution. For some of the notes placement of the top teeth on the reed is required to produce the harmonic. Fingerings vary from instrument to instrument. I found the great resource online of many fingerings that may help. https://www.wfg.woodwind.org/oboe/ob_alt_3.html
Reeds determine the quality of life for any oboist and this is no exception when it comes to high notes. Reeds that have splitting or diverging sides will cause trouble when shooting for high notes. Additionally reeds that crow a flat C or B will not cooperate when high notes are required.
To get tight sides: select better cane. Cane that is not straight in one or more dimensions will not allow the sides to come together tightly. Be very picky when choosing what piece of cane to make a reed from.
To bring the crow up to pitch: Clipping is the general goal but you must make sure the reed will still vibrate freely and respond well. Make sure the incline from the tip into the heart is gradual enough. This slope is key. If the area just above the heart looks good the reed will usually sustain a clip with the desired results.
With a good reed the high notes can feel effortless but do not neglect to train your body to produce the high notes reliably as well. Let me know what other issues or solutions on the oboe you have had in the comments below.