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How do you get two oboe students to play in tune...

You’ve heard the variations on this joke:

  • Shoot one of them

  • Make one stop playing

  • Send one to the _insert other instrument name_ section…

But you wouldn’t ever actually do one of those punchlines! You want your oboe students to feel comfortable fully participating in class and adding value to your concerts.

So today I’ve got 3 steps to work on oboe intonation. I’ve written it out as I teach it, so you can even print out this email and hand it to your oboe students to experiment with!

1. Using voicing to control pitch

Voicing, or changing the shape of the inside of the mouth, is the most common method pros and advanced oboe students use to make tiny changes to their pitch.

The premise is simple, here’s how to explore this concept:

Ground rules: Your embouchure (lips) stays the same on the reed, your air stays the same (blowing fast and forward), isolate just your jaw movement.

Lower the pitch first. Start playing with your normal embouchure, and slowly lower your jaw as you play. Creating more vertical space inside your mouth will lower the pitch.

Raise the pitch second. Start playing with your normal embouchure, and slowly raise your jaw. If this has minimal effect, you can also experiment with raising the back of your tongue up. Creating less vertical space inside your mouth will raise the pitch.

2. Pitch Bend exercise

Using the jaw movements you explored in step one, play with pitch bends.

Ground rules: Your embouchure stays the same on the reed, and your air stays the same (fast and forward). Keep the air going throughout the pitch bend.

Start by playing a note (you choose which one!), then using voicing, create more space in your mouth cavity to bend the pitch flat. Hold it flat for a moment, then bend it back up to where you started.

Take a breath. Play the same note from your starting point (hopefully in tune-ish), then using voicing, create less space in the mouth to raise the pitch sharp. Hold it sharp for a moment, then bend it back down to where you started.

Take a breath, repeat! Spend 2-3 minutes on pitch bends to increase your intonation flexibility!

3. Take it to the next level by adding a tuner!

Use a tuner to see how far you can bend the pitch flat and sharp Using a tuner to make sure that you start and end perfectly in tune is a fun challenge!

Caveat: Some other things drastically affect intonation, so you can also check these elements BEFORE you start the voicing and pitch bend exercises:

  • The reed is more than a month old (old reeds don’t reliably play in tune…my oboe students are required to get new reeds every 4 weeks)

  • The reed isn’t fully pushed into the oboe (DON’T pull the reed out to achieve tuning)

  • The student isn’t supporting the note with enough air speed (check out the FAST air exercise from my Good Oboe Tone Guide!)

  • The student is squeezing the reed TOO HARD with their embouchure (use a pinky check to measure embouchure effort and whether they’re squeezing too hard)

  • The reed is SUPER out of tune (reeds should crow between a Bb-C#. If not, the reed may be the issue. Try a different reed, or a different brand)

  • The reed is brand new (new reeds take a few practice sessions (3-5) to break in, and oboists tend to use extra embouchure pressure on new reeds when trying to play in tune. Break in the reed first, THEN do intonation exploration)​

Ok, hopefully the content in this email will help you guide your students to playing in tune well. I know you’ve got a month-ish left in school, so now’s a perfect time to assign pitch bend exercises to your students so they can get control of their intonation, and your final concerts are in tune!

Until next week,



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