Guide to Oboe the Family

The oboe is a member of the woodwind family of musical instruments. Woodwind instruments got their name because they were traditionally made of wood. Today, they are made of different materials. In order to play these kinds of instruments, the player  blows air through the instrument.

The oboe, along with its relatives such as the bassoon, English horn, contrabassoon all belong to the double reed branch of the woodwind family. Some of the instruments that belongs in the reed branch of the woodwind family uses a reed which are two pieces of wood that vibrate against each other, and this is called a double reed instrument.

History of the Oboe

Experts believe that double reed instruments are one of the the oldest type of instruments in the world. In fact, in ancient Greece, the double reed instrument called aulos was often used in outdoor theater productions. the double reed shawm was introduced in Europe during the Crusades, this was an outdoor instrument that was typically used for dancing and in the military. When the 17th century came, orchestral and opera composers, such as Jean Baptiste Lully, started using an indoor version of the shawm, and they called this the hautbois. In the 19th century, orchestral composers such as Claude Debussy, started using an oboe d’amore, this was a longer version on the modern oboe. The oboe that we know today was developed during the 19th century by the Triébert family in France.

Oboe Parts

The oboe reed is often made from dried cane that is typically grown in France and Spain. Most oboe players wrap and cut their reeds by themselves, this is considered as an art in and of itself. This move is aslo often referred to as the most difficult part of playing the oboe.

On the other hand, the oboe itself is often made from grenadilla, or African Blackwood. The tube of the oboe is drilled with holes that are covered by metal keys. The oboe also has a conical bore, this means that the instrument has a shape that gets wider from top to bottom. This shape enables the oboe to give off a mellower sound. While the end of the oboe is flared and this style is called a bell. An ordinary oboe is just over two feet long, and is played vertically just like a clarinet, and not horizontally like a flute. The body of the oboe can be split into three sections, which makes this instrument a lot easier to clean, store and carry.

Types of Oboe

  • Bass or Baritone Oboe – This type of oboe is a double reed instrument and it is about twice the size of the typical oboe. It has a deep, full, and an octave lower sound compared to the regular oboe.
  • Contrabass Oboe – This type of oboe is a double reed woodwind instrument that sounds two octaves or sometimes an octave and a fourth lower than the typical oboe. The contrabass oboe has a distinct tonal quality and some experts say that it doesn’t have the slightest similarity with other low tomes of the bassoon. However, despite its uniqueness, the contrabass oboe was never widely used and only a few of them exists today.
  • Cor Anglais or the English Horn – This type of oboe is also a double reed woodwind instrument. Despite its name, this instrument is neither from England or France. This type of oboe originated in Silesia around 1720 and is often referred to as the alto of the oboe family.
  • Oboe D’amore – This type of oboe is a little bit larger compared to the typical oboe we know. This instrument gives off a less assertive and more serene and tranquil tone. The Oboe D’Amore is considered to be the mezzo-soprano of the oboe family.
  • Oboe Da Caccia – This type of oboe is usually pitched a fifth below the oboe and it is was commonly used during the Baroque period of the European classical music. The Oboe Da Caccia ha a curved tube along with a brass bell and its range is almost similar to the Cor Anglais.
  • Piccolo Oboe – Also spelled as piccoloboe, this type of oboe was historically called as the oboe musette. Among all the other types of oboe, the Piccolo Oboe has the highest and smallest pitch.