The oboe is member of the woodwind family and has a double reed. It is a soprano-range instrument with a length of sixty-two centimeters. It has a conical bore that widens into a flaring bell at the end. The origin of its name could be traced back to the English instrument hautbois or hoboy before 1770. Haut means loud or high and bois means wood.

The oboe player called oboist controls the air pressure and embouchure to meticulously present the proper dynamics and timbre. The range of the modern oboe is from the B-flat under middle C up to the A which is around 3 octaves higher.

Voice of the oboe

Compared to other contemporary woodwind musical instrument, this instrument has a lucid and piercing voice. It is described as stately and majestical by an instruction book entitle The Sprightly Companion. The timbre comes from the conical bore which is in contrast to the cylindrical bore of clarinets and flutes. This makes the oboe audible among other instruments in ensembles.

This stately instrument has a pitch that is in concert C but orchestras usually use a concert A pitch. The League of American Orchestras state that this makes the oboe’s pitch secure and the piercing sound makes it suitable for tuning.

The construction of the reed greatly affects the pitch of the oboe through the differences in its material, variations in length and scrape, and age of reed. Other than the reed, humidity and temperature will also have effects on the pitch. The embouchure could be adjusted to cover for these aspects.

Oboe family

The oboe family under the woodwind family is considerably large. The most popular brother of the oboe is the cor anglais, more commonly known as English horn, which has the tenor role in the family. This is a transposing instrument pitched in F. The alto role is done by the oboe d’amore which is pitched in A. A less popular member of the oboe family is the bass oboe or baritone oboe which is one octave lower compared to the oboe. Similar to this instrument is the heckelphone which is measured as more powerful and has a wider bore.

The most uncommon are the piccolo oboe or musette which is the sopranino in the family and the contrabass oboe which is pitched two octaves lower.

Oboe’s structure

Traditionally, oboes are made of granadilla or African Blackwood and have three sections – top joint, bottom joint, and bell section. The left hand controls the 10 holes on the top joint while the right hand is used for the also 10 holes on the bottom joint. Covered with keys are two holes in the bell section.

Some craftsmen still manufacture hand made oboes. The double reed is made of cane which is dried and aged from the south of France or Spain’s east coast. The scrupulous approach to making double reeds is a huge factor in producing quality musical sound.

Popular culture

The sound of a duck is frequently compared to that of the oboe in popular culture. It has been used to play the character of a duck in Peter and the Wolf of Sergei Prokofiev.

Based on research, the oboe, clarinet, and flute are viewed as instruments that are on the feminine side. In contrast to that, it has been observed though not proven that boys prefer the sound of the bassoon, oboe, and English horn than of others’. Some oboists have remarked that these stereotypical views of the oboe might pilot to inconsistency in instrumentation in the future.