Reeds and embouchure are critical to a good oboe sound. MENC member Kristin Polk shares some tips.
It is best to buy reeds that are handmade by an oboist. If a college or university is in the area, check to see if the teacher or students make reeds to sell. Many oboists sell reeds over the Internet. Students should purchase reeds from different places to see what best suits them.
Students should always have at least two reeds that play well. Reeds change with the humidity or temperature so students need a backup if one is damaged.
Preparing and Maintaining Reeds
Reeds should be soaked three to five minutes in lukewarm water before playing. If necessary, a reed can be soaked in the mouth, but saliva can break down the reed’s fibers.
Students should rotate reeds to help them last longer and should learn the signs that indicate that a reed should be discarded. They become less responsive, tend to play sharp, and have a thinner sound as they get older. Oboe reeds don’t last as long as bassoon reeds or single reeds.
Reeds shouldn’t be stored in air-tight cases. The wood needs to dry out completely after each use. Look for cases that hold several reeds and keep them safe while drying out. Many music stores and specialty double reed shops sell these reed cases.
Forming a Correct Oboe Embouchure
The oboe embouchure directly affects tone. The corners of the mouth should be forward, similar to whistling. The lips should be rolled slightly inward so the lips, and not the teeth, touch the reed. The bottom jaw should be lowered so there is space between the upper and lower teeth. The lips will fill in this space and cushion the reed.
The reed should anchor on the lower lip. When the oboe is played, only a small amount of reed is inside the mouth.
Playing With a Characteristic Oboe Sound
Attending concerts of professional ensembles or soloists and listening to recordings that feature professional oboists allow students to hear the characteristic sound of an oboe which is warm and dark. A thin, pinched, or nasal tone is not a characteristic oboe sound.
Kristin Polk is professor of oboe and bassoon at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
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—Victoria Chamberlin, May 18, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (www.nafme.org)