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Oboe/Oboe playing and headaches


I've been playing oboe for nearly 30 years and in the past couple of months I've started experiencing a kind of tension headache that seems to start when I'm playing oboe.

I've had it checked out with my GP and think it might be a type of migraine - I'm just waiting on further tests.

I really don't want to give up playing, so I'm focusing on making sure that I'm properly supporting when I play and also switching to a softer reed - I used to pay on the Ke-Xun reeds.

I just wondered if you had come across this before and if you had any other recommendations.


Dear Lisa

What a worrying thing to happen. It is unusual to get headaches as you play or afterwards even, but thinking through things you might suspect that blowing the oboe has to be a contributory factor because the pressure is quite high. Incidentally do you get  zig zag "jaggies"  before the eyes well or simply head aches? Do you have these headaches playing just the reed?

As you are an experienced player I'm sure that I don't need to tell you to ensure that the reed is soaked a little and vibrating well before you try it in the oboe and also that you make sure that the oboe is checked over for air tightness as tiny leaks make it more resistant. Sometimes these air tightness problems creep up unnoticed.

Whenever I have such thoughts about the embouchure or the resistance to blowing I remind myself that small children nowadays seem to play without too much pain and discomfort. Maybe we the listener have pain and discomfort from the results sometimes (!) but these small chests and lungs seem to be able to blow OK with impunity! The secret here of course is a free blowing oboe and free reeds. Are you putting too much lip pressure as - in biting - on the reed and stifling its vibrations? This would make you blow harder to compensate. I suppose I am implying that over blowing can cause problems. Does your face become very red and congested when you play?

Why not try a long scraped American style reed which is very free blowing and needs plenty of diaphragmatic support with a faster air speed but not as much pressure. See how that affects the propensity for head aches. Ke-Xun makes this sort of reed by the way.

Biggest advice though I think is to try not to worry about the problem. Easier said than done I'm sure.
Perhaps if you pick up the oboe one day with a great reed and your oboe in tip top order you will play and forget this ever happened.
I do hope so.

If I can help any more please do get in touch.

Best of luck with things



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Geoffrey Bridge


Professional oboist with many years experience. Former pupil of Leon Goossens. Solo artist for Arts Council of Great Britain. Freelance recitalist/broadcasting/orchestras. Former Head of woodwind teaching in Hampshire, England. Questions on repertoire, playing styles, reeds, cane selection and processing.


Royal College of Music, Aberdeen College of Education Licenciate of the Royal Academy of Music General Teaching Council certificate Broadcast solo recitals/performed with major symphony orchestras/Music Club recitals/writings on double reed matters

Treasurer/Advertising Manager and Trustee of the British Double Reed Society International Double Reed Society Association Hautbois Francais Southern Pro Musica Orchestra/Aberdeen Sinfonietta

Double Reed News/Australasian Double Reed Society magazine

LRAM, Cert Ed

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