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Common Problems of the Oboe

The Oboe is a beautiful instrument that is adored in the classical world. It requires regular practice and a set of craftsman skills for creating reeds. Unlike most woodwinds, the Oboe is a double reed instrument that comes chalked full of unique problems and challenges. In today’s post we will summarize Mr. Charles West’s book, “Woodwind Methods, An Essential Resource for Educators, Conductors and Students” about Common Problems of the Oboe. I have found this book to be invaluable and recommend this book to be in your library of must haves.


Common Problems

Problem #1

Problem one is that often oboe players put too much reed into the mouth. When this is done the pitch will often be sharp. The third space C in the staff will seem out of control and will commonly have an undesirable bright sound. Counter this by taking in less reed and being sure to muffle the bottom reed.

Problem #2

Problem number two deals with the reed angle from the mouth. Remember that the oboe needs to be held up and blown more directly into the instrument. Often players assume the 45 degree angle, much like a clarinet, brass instrument, saxophone or bassoon. When a oboist holds up the instrument it allows the lower lip to participate in the control of the lower reed. As a result, the sound will be more characteristic than the 45 degree angle.

Treble Clef

Problem #3

Problem number three is that oboists are using incorrect fingerings. It is interesting to note that many of the double reed fingerings almost produce the correct note. The problem with these notes is that they will be slightly out of tune and the actual note does not match the characteristic sound of the notes around it.  
It is common for young musicians to use the wrong octave key or have a tendency to overblow. Those students who switch from clarinet or saxophone often use only one octave key which almost works. Unlike most other woodwind instruments, the oboe is the only one that does not have a natural open fingering. And much like the bassoon, it is one of the few instruments that uses half holes.

Problem #4

Problem number four is specific to having a poor reed. It is necessary for oboe reeds to be able to produce a “double crow” sound when it is placed all the way into the mouth (up to the strings.) It is important to understand that the low register will not work if a low crow sound cannot be produced.
If a oboe double reed is split, it usually means that the reed is ruined. West emphasizes that this is particularly true if the reed is split toward the center of the blade.
Poorly cut reeds tend to lack a well defined heart, spine and tip. If the reed does not have these features then it is advisable to consider purchasing from a different brand of reed or find a professional that can make reeds for you. 
Woodwind Quartet

Problem #5

Problem number 5 involves not truly understanding the different fingerings for “F.” The regular common “Fs” provide a solid pitch and characteristic sound however should be avoided if the right hand, third finger has to slide laterally. 

West recommends that in the absence of the left-hand F key, you should use the “forked F key.” However note that this fingering has a less than ideal sound. If the pitch is sounding flat then consider bringing it up by opening the E-flat key with the fourth right finger. 

Higher quality oboes also provide an other option for correcting intonation and improving sound quality by playing a left handed “F” key with the fourth finger.

Problem #6

Biting is today’s problem number six. The lips are designed to hold the oboe reed and as a result they should stand up by their own strength. The lips are not supposed to be devoid of energy or remain static. Rather the oboist’s lips should be strong and dynamic in order to make on the fly adjustments.


Problem #7

Problem number seven is that the oboe is out of adjustment. Being that the oboe is a relatively complex piece of equipment in comparison to many of it’s fellow ensemble instruments it would be wise to have a professional instrumental repair technician make the appropriate adjustments.

Problem #8

And finally, oboe common problem number eight is that the upper octave notes, especially the ones from E-natural upwards have a “split” sound. It feels as if the note in the upper register is not entirely settled and wants to reside in the lower octave. 

One reason for this is that there may be water in the octave key. If the E through A-flat notes have this problem then there is water in the back octave key hole. If you are playing A through C then the water build up will be in the second octave key. 

To resolve this remove the upper joint and swab it dry. Next, use some tissue between the octave key pad and the tone hole. Then close all of the oboe holes on the upper joint and plug the open end. Finally, blow into the reed receiver on the top end of the upper joint and open and close the octave key with paper under it. As a result of blowing you will see small drops of water on the paper from the small vent hole.


In conclusion, the oboe is a fascinating and beautiful instrument. Part of what makes this instrument sing is directly correlated to it’s complex construction. With adequate guidance and proper instruction for resolving certain innate problems associated with the oboe, any serious musician will find fulfilling success on the instrument.


Common playing problems and solutions for the young oboist. Dr. Sarah Hamilton. (n.d.). Retrieved August 14, 2022, from

West, C., & Lautzenheiser, T. (2015). Woodwind methods: An essential resource for educators, conductors, and students. Meredith Music Publications, a division of G.W. Music, Inc



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