Oboe/Third Octave notes



When I'm playing oboe, I'm in tune and have a dark, warm and pleasant sound from B flat to C sharp. However, as soon as I hit past D, response is always so icky. The notes are in tune (with the only exception being high F, which is sharp), but response is just poor. Have you got any tips for how to fix this, especially with high F, as I have to play these high notes in pieces and in technical work? Are there any oboe, embouchure or reed adjustments?

Thank you very much! =]

ANSWER: Hi,James.  Without seeing you play, it's pure conjecture but here are some of my thoughts.  First I'm assuming you are referring to notes above D above the staff. I'm not surprised that the high F is sharp - it's often difficult to have that note speak correctly without either over blowing or squeezing the reed.  Both will sharpen the note.  It could, of course, just be the nature of your instrument.  Do you have a 3rd octave key and if so have you tried tapping it (without holding it down) to help play the notes? Make sure that you use good breath control and good posture in general and especially in the upper register.  This will help hit those notes while keeping your embouchure steady without squeezing. How long have you had the instrument and how old is it?  Has this been a consistent issue with your oboe or is it a recent development?  Has the instrument been adjusted recently? A worn pad or maladjustment might be just enough to allow some air leakage and that will affect those notes. In terms of reeds, A narrower reed (especially at the tip) and a shorter tip (2mm for example) will help the upper notes to speak (here I'm referring to American style reeds vs. European). Are the reeds overly scraped - that is, are they too soft?  It will require much more effort to hit those higher notes with a reed that's too soft.  Hope that this helps in thinking about this and arriving at a solution.  Joel   

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Yes, I'm talking D above the staff - pesky notes they are! ;)

My Howarth S40C has a third octave key, and I do depress it for these notes. I find it essential, without it the notes are completely unresponsive. Even with the second octave key instead of the third octave key, the notes are very difficult - you have to form an absolutely sepcific embouchure and airstream which takes much thought, and can be very unreliable, and very useless when playing fast scales and arpeggios. I have noticed though, when using the second octave key, the notes are flatter.

I tried doing the "tap" of the third octave key like you recommended, and unfortunately it doesn't help. Instead, it makes the notes very unpleasent - the key sharpens the notes slightly, and doing the flick makes the notes bumpy. It's really a matter of depressing the third octave key or not for my oboe. I'm actually going to try and go to the next step and buy a professional instrument - it's very exciting! I'm trying the Mariguax 901, 2001 and M2, the Howarth S50C and XL, the Buffet Orfeo and Greenline and some Yamaha professional oboes. Let's hope they make some differences! (Loree oboes aren't supplied generally speaking in Australia.)

I know that a narrower shaped reed helps with these notes, but I only go from the gouged and shaped state, as I'm still learning reed making and it's very expensive buying shaping equipment (unfortunately... I'd love to go from the tube cane state if I could!). Also, narrower reeds seem to be unreliable for the lowest register, and because I'm second oboe in a Youth Orchestra, I need stability in the lower register above all else. I just need to hit these third octave notes for technical work, really and some solo repertoire.

I don't think my reeds are too soft - they're about a medium. I buy my own for the time being, until my reed making becomes reliable (which is getting there - I can make blanks effortlessly now, and scraping is starting to become second nature to me). I order medium reeds in the form of U scrapes and American scrapes, a bit of both. I've noticed medium hard reeds or hard reeds speak very unclearly in all registers, so I avoid those.

I hope this information about me helps you identify a solution. I wish I could get these notes very easily! (I can get them, and when I do they're fine, it's just the response, that's it!)

Do you use the standard fingerings, or alternate ones?


ANSWER: Yes, James, devilish is an apt term for those high notes.  Basically they're harmonics.  For example, an alternative fingering for E is the same as A with a half whole.  The harmonic of A is a fifth above or E.  Likewise, a fifth above A# would be F#; that's why the fingering for F# is essentially the same as A# with the half whole.  They are not the prettiest notes.  The major information that you gave me is that you are purchasing commercial reeds.  I think you're wise in thinking about making your own reeds.  I don't think you have to go all the way by buying a gouging machine and can experiment with different makers.  The staple is also a consideration.  I just recently purchased a Howarth 40C (after 40 years of playing on a Chauvet).  I've found that Glotin tubes seem to work best for the Howarth.  It may take some experimenting with different staples and gouged shaped cane as well as playing around with the tip and the width of the reed.  Do you find a difference in the upper register between U and American scrapes?  Joel

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QUESTION: I'll try using Glotin staples. What cane do you use? In fact, could you write me a small guide to best types of staples and cane brands for each oboe? I know this is possibly biased and personal, but I'm very interested to know! :)

My reeds aren't commercial; they aren't bought from a store. I order them privately from professional reed makers in different countries (itís the next best thing to making them). They usually suit me and have all the qualities of a very good reed (I will never play a bright, bash or unstable reed, not even for practise)! But I don't want to rely on them so much anymore, and I'd just like to make my own.

Possibly U scrapes are easier on the higher register notes. American scrapes are better everywhere else. I can't decide whether I prefer one to the other, but U scrapes seem like an easier scrape, and I'll start off with these, and maybe try American scrapes down the road.

I'll try experimenting, but I'm still very new to reed making. I'm making my blanks as air-tight as I can, straight as possible and I'm letting them "settle" for a month (how long do you let them settle?). I'm eager to start scraping.

Again, do you use standard fingerings?

Thank you very much!! :)

James,  take a look at this doc. www.oboecentral.com.au/page15.php.  It's a simple chart that shows which staples work best with which instruments.  I have bought my cane from several suppliers including Charles, Forrests; I've even tried some on Ebay.  In general, I've become proficient enough to be able to make a decent reed no matter the cane - there is some cane that's so poor that it can't be used but I've found those rare.  I do my own shaping and have found with my new Howarth a narrower shape works better.  Given my embouchure and the instrument, I've found that a 68mm length (staple to tip) works best for intonation.  It really comes down to experimenting with what works best with your embouchure and oboe.  In terms of technique and reed making, I recommend that you take a look at "The Art of Oboe Playing" by Sprenkle and Ledet.  It also has a good fingering chart - in reviewing the chart, I realize that I pretty much stick to those fingerings.  There's a newer book on reed making, "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Oboe Reedmaking"  (http://www.oboeabode.com/oboeabode/Welcome.html).  It's pretty expensive - $85 US - I haven't had a chance to look at it yet but someone who I respect very much has highly recommended it.  Joel  


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Joel Simon




I've played oboe for over 40 years. During that time I've played and performed in many ensembles including full orchestras, chamber orchestras, and wind quintets. I've played as both an amateur and professionally. Out of necessity, I've learned how to care for the oboe, make adjustments and repair when necessary.

I studied with Robert Sprenkle at Eastman School of Music preparatory department and 3 years privately with Lois Wann. I've also studied with Robert Eliscu.

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