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4 Sound Experiments for Oboists

I had the privilege of working with a handful of oboe and bassoon students at La Honda Music Camp a few weeks ago, none of whom have worked with me before. Rather than trying to change their embouchures (because they have private teachers to work with on that), in every morning’s warm-up, I offered some experiments for the students to try. The results of these experiments were mixed, but the process of experimenting was fun and interesting for us all!

So today, I’m going to offer you the same warm-up experiments to try. I highly recommend you choose one per warm-up session and don’t try all the experiments at the same time. We can only really change one aspect of our playing at a time and find success.

The Experiments:

1. Inner mouth shape

In this experiment, you’ll change the shape inside your mouth as you play.

  • Put the reed in your mouth and make your usual embouchure shape.

  • Make a narrower, more funneled shape by reaching forwards and inwards towards the reed with the corners of your lips.

  • Play 2-3 long tones trying to hold that shape (hold the same note, at the same dynamic, for at least 10 counts)

2. Reed/oboe angle

In this experiment, you’ll choose a lower reed/oboe angle than you usually use. It may feel quite different in your mouth!

  • Put the reed in your mouth and make your usual embouchure shape.

  • Pull the oboe a bit closer to you while leaving your head in its original position. YES it feels weird!

  • Play 2-3 long tones in the new position.

3. Reed anchor point

In this experiment, you’ll be changing what part of your mouth anchors the reed. When I say “anchors the reed” I mean which lip or part of the lip has the most stabilizing contact with the reed. Most of us default to using the lower lip as an anchor point.

  • Put the reed in your mouth and make your usual embouchure shape. Notice which lip the reed tends to stabilize against.

  • Now anchor the reed against the opposite lip, and let the usual anchor lip be more gentle/relaxed.

  • Play 2-3 long tones and try to allow the reed to vibrate freely on the side you’d normally anchor.

4. Air Direction

In this experiment, you’ll play with what direction your air blows: down, forward, maybe even up.

  • Play 1 long tone your usual way, noticing which direction your air is pointing.

  • Then play 2-3 more long tones with air pointing in a different direction than your normal.

Reflect on your results

After your experiment, make sure to think about the results that you got and how they change your sound or your experience playing. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you hear in the sound? Is it different from normal, and if so: how is it different? Can you describe the characteristics that have changed in the sound?

  • Has the experience of playing changed for you? Is it harder or easier, and if so: in which aspect of playing (blowing, feels different, sustaining the position)?

  • Are the changes in sound or experience playing something that you like or dislike?

Put your findings into practice

Once you’ve experimented, consider if the change is something you’d like to preserve in your playing? If so, the best time to work on subtle changes is your warm up routine. It’s easy to isolate just one element of playing and focus on that to make it a habit when you’re working on simple tasks like crowing, long tones, and slow/legato scales. Eventually, the subtle changes you’re making will be possible to find as you play music, but it won’t happen right away. Be patient and kind with yourself, and give yourself focused opportunities to work on just the change you want to make.


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