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Do you know how to get water out of an oboe tone hole?

Here in San Jose we got a rain shower yesterday, which caught me by surprise, but reminded me that the weather is changing across the country, and many of your oboe students will start to experience water in their tone holes (if they haven’t already). Let’s talk about how to get the water out, and how to keep it from getting in!

How to get water out of oboe tone holes in 3 easy steps:

  1. If the water bubble is big enough that simply blowing across the tone hole doesn’t fix the problem, start by swabbing out.

  2. Then, using a clean/dry sheet of un-gummed cigarette paper or blotting paper blot the water. Do this by putting a dry part of the paper under the affected pad and closing the pad on the paper. Repeat this step until the paper comes out from under the pad dry.

  3. If the water is in the top joint, especially an octave vent, take the top joint off, put paper under the affected tone hole, close the pad on the paper, then cover all the holes AND the bottom of the joint firmly, then blow air through the oboe. As you blow, open and close the affected pad to blow the water onto the paper. Repeat this step until the paper comes out dry.

Be Patient with the process! It can take a while, and the oboe may need to be stored with clean/dry paper under the tone hole to help absorb more moisture. NEVER store the oboe if water is still coming onto the paper, take the time to blow all the water out first.

And as a bonus, here’s another video resource to bookmark of me doing/explaining the process on my octave keys!

Top 4 ways to prevent water from getting into tone holes.

The other component of this topic is preventing water from getting into the tone holes in the first place! There are a few easy ways to keep oboes dry:

  1. Physically warm up the top joint of the oboe in the moments before class starts. Condensation forms most easily when the body of the oboe is a significantly different temperature from the air being blown through it. Especially in colder months, or in the mornings or evenings, just warming the top joint up so it’s not cold to the touch can help prevent water from getting stuck in the octave tone holes or the top joint vent keys.

  2. Hold the instrument with pads up while at rest. This is SO common even with my advanced students - the student will hold the instrument at a forward angle with the tone holes facing away from them, causing condensation to build up in the tone holes. The solution: hold the instrument with the tone holes pointing to the ceiling when at rest. That could mean leaning it back against the shoulder, laying it on the lap, or putting it on an oboe stand.

  3. Put the oboe away promptly after playing. If dust is allowed to accumulate in tone holes or under pads, it can be the start of a chronic water problem. Don’t leave the oboe sitting out after a practice session.

  4. Maintain a schedule of yearly maintenance for the oboe so pads and tone holes are cleaned regularly. Finally, part of the yearly maintenance oboes should get is a full adjustment, which involves taking the keys off to clean pads and tone holes. This will help extend the life of pads, and clean out any dust that accumulates in the tone holes.

There you have it: 3 steps to getting water out of tone holes and 4 ways to prevent water from getting in tone holes. I hope this helps your oboists stay dry this season!

Until next week,



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