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The oboe is the soprano member of the double reed family of woodwinds. It is not a transposing instrument. The name is derived from the French word hautbois, literally meaning "high wood."


Oboes have a reedy, almost nasal sound that is often likened to snake charmer's pipes. While a student's sound is often likened to a duck's quack, experienced players produce a clearer, more controlled tone, usually with vibrato. The range is one of the smallest of the orchestral woodwinds, at best extending from the B-flat below middle C to the B-flat three octaves above. On many reeds, reaching notes in the upper register becomes difficult above the highest F in the range.


The reed, being the part of the oboe that produces sound, is one of the most vital aspects of achieving the desired sound for an oboist. Because of this, most professional oboists make their own reeds. The process begins with a tube of reed cane, which looks quite similar to bamboo. A device known as a "cane splitter" is used to cut long, straight sections of cane from a tube (usually it splits the tube into thirds.) The straight pieces of cane are then run through a gouger, which thins the edges of the piece of cane using a blade. The cane is then softened in water and folded in the middle, producing a "v" like shape. Using a shaper, the ends are thinned with a sharp knife until the folded side is longer.

At this point, the piece of cane is finished. The piece of cane is tied onto a staple, made of cork and a metal tube using heavy duty thread. If the reed does not leak, the top is clipped off, leaving a hole at the end of the cane for the oboist to blow thorough. The cane is then scarped using a knife and a small, oval disc that fits into the opening of the reed. The method by which it is scraped various between schools of oboe playing and even individual oboists.

Notable pieces for the oboe

  • Britten: Six Metamorphoses After Ovid (Op. 59), Phantasy Quartet (Op. 2)
  • Marcello: Concerto in C Minor
  • Mozart: Concerto in C Major (K. 314), Quartet in F Major (K. 370)
  • Strauss: Oboe Concerto (1945)

Notable solos in orchestral works

  • Bach: Cantatas, especially "Ich Habe Genung" (BVW 82)
  • Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 (Second Movement)
  • Ravel: Le Tombeau De Couperin
  • Rossini: La Scala Di Seta Overture