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Oboe/different sound tones/colors


Dear Geoffrey,
    I was wondering how to control different sound colors? I have a very heavy/dull tone that (especially on low notes) seems kind of airy and not focused. Is this a breath support issue? How do I achieve a lighter, brighter, and clearer sound? Also, going along with breath support, how do I know if my breath support is correct?

Dear Christina

Sound colours involve several factors. Oboe type, reed style, breath support, embouchure control, resonance chamber behind the reed- the mouth cavity essentially.

A heavy tone that seems lifeless usually means a reed problem. I presume that you are using a long scraped American style reed with a lot of heart and channels cut along the reed spine almost to the binding. The dullness often happens when there is too much taken out of the channels or the heart is too heavy or the tip is not thin enough.  Try blending the tip into the heart area having made sure that the tip itself is as thin s possible. Try the response. Play a middle C (one left and one right finger) it should sound easily without any pressure form the embouchure. Don't encourage it just let it do it's thing. The sound should not be accompanied by lots of air noise. If it doesn't speak easily try thinning the tip a bit more.

Make sure that the reed crows to a C and not a B when you crow it gently close to the tip and not rattle too much when you blow it up to the binding. The C should be maintained quite accurately otherwise your reed is too free with too much scraped out. To remedy that if it is, you have to clip the tip a tiny amount and always aim for that C on the crow.

The length of the tip in relation to the heart is vital. There should be gradual smooth transition from the heart into the tip in the corners leaving the centre line as far as possible. Angle the knife at 45 degrees  as you work from the heart to the corners of the tip. The centre of the tip ought to be a little thicker than the corners.

If this fails take off some of the heart until the tone brightens up. Tiny polishing is often all that is needed.

Now some oboes are darker in sound than others. Whether you equate that darkness with warm and lovely is up to you. Loree oboes have a little brightness built into them I find in comparison to Marigaux and Howarth. Rigoutat are brighter again.

The breathing issue is one to explore perhaps using the "Playing with a Pro" website where you will find an excellent video on breathing by a Danish teacher - in English! You have to buy this but it is well worth it. It is about an hour long and very detailed and easy to follow. Really makes breathing an easy issue. Nothing complicated just good common sense with lots of exercises.

Embouchure and resonance I will deal with later in another question if that is what you would like me to do.

Of course you could always try a European reed style!!!

Best wishes



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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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