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Do you know how much oboe reed should go in your mouth?

Happy February! You may be thinking that it’s time to bring a clinician in to “sell” the oboe to your class, so you can fill out your oboe section. In fact I did that last Friday - a short history of the oboe lecture and demonstration followed by an hour of helping 9th graders play the oboe for the first time. (I’m not kidding, it was a full hour and the entire clarinet section came to try playing oboe!)

During the trial, I noticed that students put way too much reed in their mouths on instinct. Especially those who play clarinet or saxophone, there’s a habit built in, and we just don’t want that much oboe reed inside our mouth as we play. So I came up with an idea and tested it on a private lesson student today, and it works!

What’s the right amount of reed?

We want to put about one third of the reed into our mouth cavity, the third below that will be covered by our lips, and the bottom third should be visible outside the mouth.

As observers, it’s clear when there’s too much reed in the mouth, so you can judge by how much of the reed is visible outside the lips. But as a player we have to notice some subtle changes in the sound (which beginners and intermediate players may not ever notice!) including:

  • Muffled tone

  • Chronic sharpness

  • Low notes won’t play correctly (G in the staff and below)

  • Octave notes feel really hard

  • It’s hard to tongue at fast tempos

All of these issues can be fixed nearly immediately by playing with less reed in the mouth and only happen while playing, so how can we set up the student for success?

How to notice that there’s too much reed before playing

I think that the tongue position before playing is the best variable to use to help students play with less reed in their mouth. We want the tip of the tongue to fully close the entire tip of the reed - the tongue should touch both blades of the reed for every articulated beginning of a note.

Here’s how I guided my student through changing their tongue placement this afternoon:

  1. Touch your tongue to the back of your front top teeth. That’s how far forward in your mouth we want your tongue to generally sit. We want the reed to just barely poke behind your teeth.

  2. On the reed alone, put the reed in your mouth, and find a similarly forward tongue position - the tip of the tongue should nearly touch your teeth.

  3. Take a breath, cover the tip of the reed with your tongue in this position, start blowing, then keep blowing and release your tongue. (crowing in this position)

  4. Try it again with the reed in the oboe, thinking about tongue position within the mouth.

Now I need to give you a caveat - the student needs to be patient and willing to think about what’s going on with their tongue, so it may not work for every student in a large classroom setting. But, for the students switching from single reeds, this is a great way to get them in the habit of using less reed and promotes a more natural “OOO” shape in the embouchure, which will in turn promote a more full, round, open, characteristic sound.

Let me know if you try this method, I’m super curious to hear if it works for your students!

Until next week,



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