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Does the changing season affect the oboe?

Here in sunny California the temperatures are starting to drop. Whether you’re a pro or a newbie, there are a few things you will most likely experience, or have already been experiencing related to the season change. Let’s get into it.

How can seasons affect the oboe?

As we transition into Fall here in California, I realize that many of you in the rest of the country have already been experiencing classic 🍁fall oboe 🍁vibes. This includes:

  • Your instrument is cold when it comes out of the case

  • You notice water in your keys more frequently all of a sudden

  • Your oboe feels harder to play on certain notes all of a sudden

As temperatures drop, we’re going to need to take extra precautions to keep our instruments safe against cracking and water under our keys. Be sure to physically warm the top 6 inches of the instrument before playing. You can do this by cuddling the top joint, or putting it in your armpit. Avoid blowing hot air into a cold instrument the way flutists might. It’s the sudden difference in temperature and humidity in the bore of the instrument that can be detrimental.

You may also notice that you get weird gurgling sounds in some notes as you play. This can indicate that you have a water bubble trapped under a key (most commonly one of the octave keys, or any of the top joint keys). Swab out first, then use un-gummed cigarette paper to soak up any remaining water from under that pad. Keep that part of your oboe warm to help avoid more water pooling there. (For the whole how-to check out this blog post)

The last *classic* oboe struggle is the feeling that your oboe is suddenly harder to play than before. This can be across the whole instrument, or just one part of the range. I noticed that over the last two weeks I’ve done little tiny adjustments on low notes for about half of my students’ instruments - the instrument was a little bit out of adjustment and that made playing low notes really hard.

When the temperature suddenly drops, the ambient humidity in the air often changes as well because the heat is turned on. The change in humidity can change the size of the cork pads on the oboe - these are super subtle changes over time, so you won’t be able to observe them with the naked eye. Aside from many of the pads under keys, there are also bumper corks that sit underneath adjustment screws that keep your oboe in proper alignment. When those bumper corks dry out or get compressed over time, the screw placement changes and it can negatively affect your ability to play with ease.

DIY oboe case humidity control

To help cork pads and the wood of your instrument stay more consistently hydrated, you can make an in-case humidification helper with the part of this reed humidification system. Just take the sponge-in-bag part and put that inside your case but not touching your oboe. That will help stabilize the humidity inside the case, and hopefully help it play more reliably for you throughout the winter season.


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