If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Oboe lesson

Learn about the oboe from an expert musician with the U.S. Marine Band. Includes daily exercises to develop rhythm, intonation, dynamics, articulation, endurance and more.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

(orchestral music) (oboe solo) (orchestral music continues) - When I'm first warming up for the day there's this one exercise that I find particularly useful for a lot of things. This is something that I learned in college when I was studying from Richard Killmer who is a fantastic teacher and wonderful person too, if I may add. And it's this exercise that allows you to work on rhythm, intonation, dynamics, endurance all the things that oboe players, young and old find challenging. And it involves starting on a relatively low note of your choice. And then going up a half-step, jumping up to an octave above the original note, going up a half-step, and so on until you get to the top end of your comfortable range and you come back down. It sounds something a little bit like this. (oboe solo) And you can adjust that to be a little longer if you are trying to work on endurance, or a little shorter if maybe you're a younger player and you haven't developed your lung capacity quite as much. And you can also practice trying to start the note as softly as you can and crescendo-ing to as loud as you can at the top note and then coming back down. You can practice it with a pitch drum to work on your intonation of different intervals. And what I find particularly effective, when doing this exercise, is to practice it with a metronome set to a really low number. Usually, when I'm doing it I set the metronome to either 15 or 20 beats per minute. And that means that each note lasts about 3 to 4 seconds. And you try to change notes exactly when the metronome clicks. And what that does is it really helps develop an inner sense of time and rhythm because when you are a young player you may tap your foot to keep time but when you are a professional you really need to internalize the rhythm so that when you are playing you can stay in time on your own. You can be more autonomous. And then once you've done that first interval, that half-step, then you go on one half-step further to do a whole step. (oboe solo) and so on. And you can keep increasing that interval, so you can go D to E flat, D to E natural, D to F, D to F sharp, and so on all the way up from D to C sharp. And practice each different interval because if you can play each interval in tune you can be in tune on whatever piece you're playing. It's one exercise that encapsulates a lot of different issues, and if you do the entire exercise where you go through each interval each time you change to a different note you can focus on something different. And that is really helpful because you have to keep yourself engaged when you're doing an exercise like this. (orchestral music) One thing that oboe players, and perhaps younger oboe players in particular, may struggle with a little bit is articulation. Particularly, when you have a faster passage with a lot of repeated tongue notes in them. It is very easy for the oboe to sound a little bit pecky. If I can exaggerate to make a point for a moment. (oboe solo) It's very easy to make a very short terse kind of sound that can be lacking in expression or refinement, and that's sort of the way that the oboe wants to naturally respond, it's a very natural process to do that. And one reason oboe players do that is because they feel like, in a faster passage, oh there's a lot of notes. I have to tongue them really fast. I really have to get my tongue moving. And sometimes it can produce an effect like the one I just had. Whereas, if you want to have a more fluent technique with your articulation really you have to focus more on the air than the actual tongue itself. So if you have a fast run that you are trying to learn I'm going to stick with the C major scale for right now if you start by practicing it slowly with a very full tone and a really legato tongue, like this. (oboe solo) So that the sound is not that different than the sound you would use if you were playing the whole thing legato. That is the best place to build speed from because if you are trying to play fast... (oboe solo) what's happening if you could take that and slow that down, put it under an audio microscope in a way, it would sound like the slow articulated version that I just did. You have to be very fluid with the tongue and you can't allow the tongue to interrupt the sound at the end of each note because if it's getting involved too much in the process, if it's getting in the way, it will only hold you back. But if you instead focus on air speed and lightness of the tongue and thinking about making a really fluid line. Then, you first of all have much more control over the music that you're making so that you can do more than just play the notes on the page, you can make music out of it. But also, it will be much easier to build speed if you have the tongue out of the way. For example, in Mozart's Oboe Concerto there's a lot of lines and a lot of passages that involve rapid tonguing. (oboe solo) And I've heard many young oboe players across the country, through educational outreach programs that the marine band does, play this passage with a little bit more of a choppy tongue like I was talking about in the beginning. (oboe solo) and it can still be in rhythm it can still be beautiful but that stopping at the end of the note is inhibitive, it interrupts the flow of the music and it doesn't allow you to create a really nice musical line. You're a little boxed in by the tongue in that case, but if you can really work on building your air support and instead of seeing a passage and thinking... Oh! Tongue and fingers have to be fast. But, instead thinking my air has to be fast and my fingers and tongue have to be relaxed and fluid and out of the way, in a certain way. Then that frees up the music to have space to shape and to really breathe. (orchestral music) One thing I've noticed is that posture is something that is maybe slightly undervalued by oboe players because, more so than most instruments, the oboe doesn't actually use a lot of air. For the most part you are applying air pressure to the reed to vibrate, but these oboe reeds are sort of similar to blowing into a coffee stirrer. The opening is very small and there is a lot of resistance. And for a young oboe player it can be very easy to have what I call T-Rex arms where your elbows are kinda pinched into your sides your overall posture is very small and in and you don't actually take in a lot of air. And what that does is it makes the sound sorta dribble down the end of the oboe. (oboe solo) and sometimes young players do that because their band directors want them to keep the sound covered up because for all young oboe players, me included, the oboe can have a very direct, almost piercing sound sometimes and it's very natural for us to try to shield ourselves from that. But the key to getting a really beautiful tone out of the oboe is that there has to be a center to it there has to be focus to the sound even at soft dynamics. And even though this instrument is much smaller and doesn't need as much air to produce any kind of sound as say a trombone or a tuba or something that really takes up a lot of space something that you really need to have full open posture to play it's just as important for the oboe, I think. So it's really good when you're sitting, practicing at home first of all to make sure that you've got a good chair to sit on that is not a folding chair, that causes you to bend at the waist too much and collapse your air column, so that you can be really stable and set apart. And it's also very important to keep your chin parallel to the floor. I see a lot of oboe players, young and old, who get the oboe to about here and then come to the instrument, who bring their chin down, who come forward and kind of hunch over the oboe. And I encourage any oboe players who may be watching or listening to be proud of your instrument and be proud to play it. So it's not a matter of playing loud necessarily. It's a matter of having an open posture that allows the instrument to make its best possible sound. So if I can go back for a second to our pretend oboist who is very small, very closed in, maybe a little afraid of the sound that's going to come out. (oboe solo) And is having the sound just sort of dribble down. The sound is covered. The sound is dark, but there's not really any body to it. Whereas if you sit with your feet flat on the floor, you get your elbows away from your rib cage a little bit, and you imaging that there's a string coming out of the top of your head that's keeping your spine in line you can still play softly and beautifully but have the sound supported with a very fast airstream. (oboe solo) (orchestral music)