Orchestration and Arranging Wiki

An Oboe
Other Names hautbois (fr)
Range B flat 3 - A6
Clefs Treble
Transposition Sounds as Written

The oboe is a double reed musical instrument of the woodwind family. In English, prior to 1770, the instrument was called "hautbois" (French compound word made of haut ("high, loud") and bois ("wood, woodwind"), "hoboy", or "French hoboy". The spelling "oboe" was adopted into English ca. 1770 from the Italian oboè, a transliteration in that language's orthography of the 17th-century pronunciation of the French name.

A musician who plays the oboe is called an oboist.

Pitch Range[]

In comparison to other modern woodwind instruments, the oboe has a clear and penetrating voice. The Sprightly Companion, an instruction book published by Henry Playford in 1695, describes the oboe as "Majestical and Stately, and not much Inferior to the Trumpet." More humorously, the voice is described in the play Angels in America as sounding like that of a duck if the duck were a songbird.[2] The timbre of the oboe is derived from the oboe's conical bore (as opposed to the generally cylindrical bore of flutes and clarinets). As a result, oboes are readily audible over other instruments in large ensembles.

An Oboe


The oboe is pitched in concert C and has a soprano range. Orchestras frequently tune to a concert A (usually A440) played by the oboe. According to the League of American Orchestras, this is done because the pitch of the oboe is secure and its penetrating sound makes it ideal for tuning purposes.[3] The pitch of the oboe is affected by the way in which the reed is made. The reed has a significant effect on the sound of the instrument. Variations in cane and other construction materials, the age of the reed, and differences in scrape and length will all affect the pitch of the instrument. German and French reeds, for instance, differ in many ways, causing the sound of the oboe to vary accordingly. Weather conditions such as temperature and humidity will also affect the pitch. Skilled oboists adjust their embouchure to compensate for these factors. Subtle manipulation of embouchure and air pressure allows the player to express timbre and dynamics.

Timbre and Tone[]

In comparison to other modern woodwind instruments, the oboe has a clear and penetrating voice. The Sprightly Companion, an instruction book published by Henry Playford in 1695, describes the oboe as "Majestical and Stately, and not much Inferior to the Trumpet." More humorously, the voice is described in the play Angels in America as sounding like that of a duck if the duck were a songbird. The timbre of the oboe is derived from the oboe's conical bore (as opposed to the generally cylindrical bore of flutes and clarinets). As a result, oboes are readily audible over other instruments in large ensembles. The precurser to the oboe is used in Elizabethan drama as a fanfare instrument.


Cor Anglais[]

Cor Anglais
Cor Anglais.jpg
A Cor Anglais
Other Names English Horn
Range A2-D5 sounding pitch
Clefs Treble
Transposition In F: Sounds one fifth lower than written

The oboe has several siblings. The most widely known today is the cor anglais , or English horn, the tenor (or alto) member of the family. A transposing instrument; it is pitched in F, a perfect fifth lower than the oboe. Its pear-shaped bell gives it a more covered timbre than that of the oboe, being closer in tonal quality to the oboe d'amore. Whereas the oboe is the soprano instrument of the oboe family, the cor anglais is generally regarded as the alto member of the family, and the oboe d'amore, pitched between the two in the key of A, as the mezzo-soprano member. The cor anglais is perceived to have a more mellow and plaintive tone than the oboe. Its appearance differs from the oboe in that the reed is attached to a slightly bent metal tube called the bocal, or crook, and the bell has a bulbous shape. It is also much longer overall.

Reeds used to play the cor anglais are similar to those used for an oboe, consisting of a piece of cane folded in two. While the cane on an oboe reed is mounted on a small metal tube (the staple) partially covered in cork, there is no such cork on a cor anglais reed, which fits directly on the bocal. The cane part of the reed is wider and longer than that of the oboe. Unlike American style oboe reeds, cor anglais reeds typically have wire at the base, approximately 5 millimeters from the top of the string used to attach the cane to the staple. This wire serves to hold the two blades of cane together and stabilize tone and pitch.

Other Variants[]

The oboe d'amore, the alto (or mezzo-soprano) member of the family, is pitched in A, a minor third lower than the oboe. J.S. Bach made extensive use of both the oboe d'amore as well as the taille and oboe da caccia, Baroque antecedents of the cor anglais. Even less common is the bass oboe (also called baritone oboe), which sounds one octave lower than the oboe. Delius and Holst both scored for the instrument. Similar to the bass oboe is the more powerful heckelphone, which has a wider bore and larger tone than the bass oboe. Only 165 heckelphones have ever been made. Not surprisingly, competent heckelphone players are difficult to find due to the extreme rarity of this particular instrument.[10] The least common of all are the musette (also called oboe musette or piccolo oboe), the sopranino member of the family (it is usually pitched in E-flat or F above the oboe), and the contrabass oboe (typically pitched in C, two octaves deeper than the standard oboe).

Folk versions of the oboe, sometimes equipped with extensive keywork, are found throughout Europe. These include the musette (France) and bombarde (Brittany), the piffaro and ciaramella (Italy), and the xirimia or chirimia (Spain). Many of these are played in tandem with local forms of bagpipe, particularly with the Italian zampogna or Breton biniou. Similar oboe-like instruments, most believed to derive from Middle Eastern models, are also found throughout Asia as well as in North Africa.

  • Piccolo oboe
  • Piccolo heckelphone
  • Oboe
  • Baroque oboe
  • Oboe d'amore
  • Cor anglais (English horn)
  • Oboe da caccia
  • Bass oboe
  • Heckelphone
  • Lupophon
  • Contrabass oboe


Quartertones and Microtones[]

Intervals smaller than a semitone. Notation methods vary, but these examples are typical of quartertones and raised & lowered inflections. Quartertones and microtones are produced by using 'fake' fingerings and/or by adjusting the embouchure.


Playing chords - more than one note at a time. Write the bottom note of the chord and the word 'chord' above. Occasionally composers write all the notes of the chord that they wish to hear and/or provide a fingering diagram. There are many possible multiphonics on both oboe and cor anglais however instruments and players vary in the multiphonics they can find.

Key Clicks[]

Rattling instrument keys. Notated by x-shaped noteheads and verbal instruction. This effect is not particularly loud.

Air Notes[]

Blowing air through the instrument without deliberately sounding a pitch. Written with verbal instruction in the music. This technique is very quiet!

Circular Breathing[]

Sustaining a note whilst breathing in through the nose. Another technique that as notated by verbal instruction in the music. Although this is easier on double reed instruments than most others, it should be regarded as an unusual technique and players should be consulted before it is used!

Flutter Tonguing[]

Flutter-tonguing is one of the oldest and most widely-used extended techniques. Oboists should be familiar with and be able to execute the two different types: one produced by rolling the tongue; the other by vibrating the throat. Composers notate flutter-tonguing in one of two ways: through use of three slashes through a note stem, or by writing “flatterzunge” (or flatt.). Composers are more and more commonly choosing to specify the type of flutter-tonguing to be used in a given passage, indicating “rrrr” for the throat version. The technique has many uses beyond the mere “special effect.”

Singing while playing[]

Singing while playing is sometimes used by oboists as low note tone-exercise, although is occasionally used in oboe repertoire. It produces a coarse, almost grinding sound, sometimes used to imitate animal effects or create artificial harmony/polyphony. When written, it should be notated on the same staff, in different noteheads. (Since there is no standard notation, different composers do what is easiest for them in terms of notation).

Pitch Bends[]

There are two possible ways of achieving a pitch bend: embouchure change or fingering changes.

The best oboe to produce a glissando is the open-hole or ring-model oboe, but this instrument is rarely usedtoday because its intonation is poor. So we are left with the standard oboe in which glissandi are very difficult to achieve with consistency over an extended range. In addition, it is notpossible to achieve a true gliss over the break, which is C flat to C# flat. To move between these notes, one must go from a fingering with only the two index fingers depressed to a fingering with all the fingers down. If a gliss over these notes is necessary, the player needs to alter hisor her embouchure in the method described below for pitch bends when crossing the break.It is difficult to achieve this smoothly.The most effective glissando is achieved by gradually sliding fingers off the hole, then off the key, raising the pitch gradually. It is easier to achieve an upward gliss than a downward gliss because it is easier to gradually remove fingers from the holes and keys than it is to gradually cover and lower the keys. Ascending glissandi tend to sound convincing,whereas descending glissandi can sometimes sound clumsy. While true glissandi are difficult to produce well on the oboe, pitch bends are easy to pro-duce due to the nature of the reed and the embouchure. In most registers it is easy to bendthe pitch down at least a semi-tone. This is achieved by relaxing the embouchure and/orpulling the reed out of the mouth slightly. This is most effective in the moderate to high range (G5 to F6) and least effective in the extreme low range (below E4). The extreme high range(above F6) can be effective, but these notes are unstable and might crack. It is possible to bend a pitch up a semi-tone by tightening the embouchure and/or puttingmore reed in the mouth (also by sliding off the hole when possible). Oboists are more limited in bending the pitch upwards than in bending it downwards. Once again, the extreme highand low ranges present the greatest difficulties


While the oboe is rarely used in musical genres other than Western classical, there have been a few notable exceptions.

Jazz and Popular Music[]

Since 1996, Jean-Luc Fillon is the main musician playing oboe (and English horn) at the international level in jazz music. Nevertheless this instrument remains very rare throughout the world and in jazz history. Some early bands, most notably that of Paul Whiteman, included it for coloristic purposes. The multi-instrumentalist Garvin Bushell (1902–1991) played the oboe in jazz bands as early as 1924 and used the instrument throughout his career, eventually recording with John Coltrane in 1961. Gil Evans scored for the instrument in his famous Miles Davis collaboration Sketches of Spain. With the birth of Jazz fusion in the late 1960s, and its continuous development through the following decade, the oboe started to fulfill a more important role in composition, replacing on some occasions the saxophone as the focal point. The oboe was used with great success by the Welsh multi-instrumentalist Karl Jenkins in his work with the groups Nucleus and Soft Machine, and by the American woodwind player Paul McCandless, co-founder of the Paul Winter Consort and later Oregon. The 1980s saw an increasing number of oboists try their hand at non-classical work, and many players of note have recorded and performed alternative music on oboe. Although folk oboes are still used in many European folk music traditions, the modern oboe has been little used in folk music. The oboe has been used sporadically in rock recordings, generally by studio musicians on recordings of specific songs.

Film music[]

The oboe is frequently featured in film music, often to underscore a particularly poignant or sad scene, for example in the motion picture Born on the Fourth of July, where an oboe delicately takes the theme with a romantic and harmonic touch before the strings hand it over once again to the trumpet. One of the most prominent uses of the oboe in a film score is Ennio Morricone's "Gabriel's Oboe" theme from the 1986 film The Mission. It is featured as a solo instrument in the theme "Across the Stars" from the John Williams score to Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. The oboe is also used in "The Search" from the Basil Poledouris score to Conan The Barbarian. Ilaiyaraja, a famous Indian film music composer, has also used the oboe in much of his film music. Examples include "Dalapathi" (1991); the title track of "Aditya 369" (1991); “Pazhassiraja” (2009); and “Nandalaala”(2010). The oboe has also been used by more recent Indian music composers, such as A. R. Rahman, who has used it in the movie "Jodha Akbar" (2008).

Though primarily featured in classical music, the cor anglais has also been used by a few musicians as a jazz instrument. The cor anglais figures in the instrumental arrangements of several Carpenters songs. It has made some appearances in pop music, such as in King Crimson's "Dawn Song" on their album Lizard, Lindisfarne's "Run For Home", Randy Crawford's "One Day I'll Fly Away", Tanita Tikaram's "Twist in My Sobriety", Marianne Faithfull's "As Tears Go By" and many (e.g. Judy Collins' and Barbra Streisand's) versions of "Send in the Clowns". In Britain, Tony Hatch's theme tune to the long-running soap opera Emmerdale Farm was originally performed on the cor anglais. The cor anglais is also featured in the Lionel Richie and Diana Ross version of "Endless Love", and in Elton John's "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" and "Candle in the Wind 1997". The song "A Mutual Friend" by the band Wire from the album 154 uses a cor anglais.