Unsolved Mysteries: Oboe, Part 3

Hand Position

Fingering combinations can be difficult. Fingers and hands should be relaxed to be successful in technical passages. The fingers should make small movements and stay close to the keys. Keep the right hand thumb under the thumb rest, which sits on the side of the thumb near the nail.

Correct Fingerings

It’s important to teach correct use of the half hole, thumb or side octave keys. Roll the finger to uncover the half hole using as least motion as possible. The half hole is used for all of the Ds on the fourth line of the staff (D-flat, D natural and D-sharp) and their enharmonic equivalents.

Third octave fingerings are considerably different than the lower two octaves. Practice these notes slowly to ensure accuracy.

Three fingerings for the lower two Fs are commonly used. Regular F uses the little F key with the right hand. Use this fingering whenever possible. Left F is used when moving from F to D (or similar fingerings) so the right hand ring finger doesn’t slide.

If the oboe doesn’t have a left F key, use forked F as an alternate. If the oboe has an F resonance key, don’t add the E-flat key with the right hand pinky. A comprehensive fingering chart can be found at  www.wfg.woodwind.org/fing.html


The reed plays a big factor in intonation. Try not to pull the reed out if students play sharp. Since the bore of oboe continues into the reed, pulling the reed out can make the intonation worse.

Roll the reed out of the mouth slightly to lower the pitch. By rolling the reed slightly into the mouth, the pitch will be raised. Avoid pinching or biting the reed to raise the pitch. Softer reeds play flatter than harder ones.

If the reed is older, the pitch can be sharp. The reed will close down with use, shrinking the opening. Be sure the instrument is at room temperature. A cold instrument can cause a student to play flat.

Dynamics and Blending

Ensemble balance with flutes can be difficult for young oboists. The lower register of the oboe can be louder than the upper register while the reverse is true for flute. It may be difficult for younger students to play softly in the lower register.

To play softly, form a cushion with the lips around the reed to lessen the vibrations. Don’t bite or pinch the reed because this will change the sound and create intonation problems. Think of the lips like a drawstring opening that is pulled closer together from all sides. This technique will help the student play softer and blend well with other sections.

Part 2
Part 1

Kristin Polk is professor of oboe and bassoon at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Victoria Chamberlin, May 26, 2011, ©MENC: The National Association for Music Education (www.menc.org)