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Oboe/throat grunting noise


Geoffrey my 12 year old is about to do grade 5 oboe exam and over the last few months has developed a grunting noise when she plays which has increased in frequency in the last fortnight, particularly when she plays with accompaniment. this has unfortunately progressed to the point where at times she cannot get a note out which is very distressing for her.
I have noticed that she tends to drop her chin and have tried to read around this on the net but not playing a reed instrument myself am finding it hard to guide her in simple terms as to how to adjust posture or blowing technique. Some of the answers to queries on the net she finds hard to understand. Do you have any basic tips for her to try? She uses a medium soft reed and we have tried various different makers in the last few months but none have alleviated the problem.

Dear Gillian

yes this is a distressing happening. It is caused by a weak soft palate that has possibly been strained further by blowing too hard. The palate then vibrates causing this noise. Sometimes the tonsil area also starts to vibrate a little as well.

What to do ? Well rest for a while is best but that is obviously not practical right now. So make sure the reeds are blowing very easily without the oboe attached. Put the reed into the mouth as far as the binding and blow. There should be a loose rattle made and not a tight little squeak.
Next make an embouchure as normal and see if the grunting begins to come in - again without the oboe. If the grunt is not there put the reed into the oboe and blow low notes first with as relaxed an embouchure as possible. Never attempt anything higher than a middle B not even the middle C which sometimes encourages a different lip pressure. If the grunt comes back with the oboe attached to the reed make sure that the oboe is air tight and that it is in good shape. Sometimes tiny leaks in a pad somewhere can increase the resistance so encouraging more pressure to be used and the grunt comes back.

It is a case of gently and quietly making sure the reed vibrates on its own without the grunt. The key is little pressure to play and a feeling of the air stream starting really low down in the bottom of the lungs and feeling a free passage to the end of the oboe. Too much resistance causes the throat to become involved and this can cause all sorts of problems not least a less than ideal tone quality!

So it comes down to reed resistance and better breathing technique  Your teacher should be able to help with these factors.

Time, a good helpful teacher and patience might be needed to cure this completely.

Best wishes for the Grade 5



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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.


St Andrews University 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

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

Double Reed News/Australasian Double Reed Society magazine/International Double Reed Society

LRAM, Cert Ed

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