I know that a lot of parents choose instruments for their kids; my parents chose oboe for me, in fact. I first played flute, but so did my older sister. I suspect I was rotten, and my parents suggested a change so I wouldn’t be competing with someone who was not only my older (and far cuter!) sister, but also a better flutist. I do recall my mother saying, “How would you like to play oboe?” or something like that anyway. I said, “Sure, what is it?” Yes, really. I honestly didn’t know what was being chosen for me. So we’d listen to the classical music station and my mom would say, “That’s an oboe!” when one would play (although sometimes she’d then say, “Oh, maybe that’s a trumpet,” —a muted trumpet can sound something like an oboe). But anyway, I didn’t really choose the oboe for myself. But once I learned the instrument a bit, it did seem to choose me. I just connected to it right away. I knew it was “me” and I knew I wanted to be an oboist. I think, too, it fit my personality; I sure don’t have a flutists personality! (Do we become the personality because we play a certain instrument, or do we play a particular instrument because of our personality traits? I wonder.)

So I realize that not all students are choosing the instrument because they love the sound and the repertoire. I hope parents are choosing it because they like it, though. I fear that some are still choosing it as a College Entrance Key™. I really don’t like to think about that much, as it simply isn’t a good reason. Still, I’ve had some students who, I suspect, got into oboe because of that reason but managed to then moved on to “I’m playing it because I love it.” So I guess even that “CEK™” reason for choosing our instrument works out.

There’s an article about choosing instruments, and they even included oboe in the discussion:

“For oboe, you have to have fingers that can spread out wide enough to cover the keys,” she says. “For clarinet, you have to be sure that the tips of fingers are not tapered. You have to be able to cover those holes. With the flute, you look for a teardrop lip, to avoid it. It’s a beautiful lip shape, but the lip comes down and splits the airstream – and that makes it hard to play.”

I’d never heard the information about clarinets or flutes before. (Fill me in, you clarinetists and flutists!). Interesting.

But yes, oboe has a wide spread … more so than that of clarinet or flute. And for some it’s very hard on the hands. There are other issues with oboe—embouchure issues, for one. Still, I like to give every student a chance at the oboe, even if I think it might not work out in the long run. I’ve had students surprise me. I’ve been proven wrong and I’m more than happy about that!


  1. It’s codswallop. There are many flutists with a teardrop, they just end up with an offset embouchure. I have a slight teardrop myself.

    e.g. http://www.larrykrantz.com/embpic.htm picture “O”

    I think this sort of attitude does a great disservice to students, and it makes me kind of angry.

  2. Can I just add my little bit of angriness to flutefish’s?  Seriously.  There is almost nothing that makes me more angry than telling a kid that they can’t play flute because of the teardrop.  Not only is it complete hogwash (see link, plus about a half-dozen flutists from my pretty respected music school that I can name off the top of my head), but it really plays a game with girls (generally) who are already pretty insecure at the age that they are picking out instruments.  Telling an 11-year old
     that she, in essence, is deformed so she can’t play the instrument that she wants is going to really hurt her feelings, not to mention make her play another instrument that she might not like as much.  She might love the instrument that she chooses later, but if she doesn’t, you’re really turning off a kid from participating in music and forming a life-long relationship with an instrument that she really loves.  That’s not edcuation.

    Also, I have no idea in the world what tapered fingerstips are, let alone if I have them…


  3. Patricia Mitchell

    OK, I’ll take the bait and post.

    As I told Patty (my wife and favorite oboe player) this evening, the post about selecting an instrument based on phyisical characteristics of dubious relevance reminds me of a very uncomfortable moment in my college brass techniques class.

    The professor took me aside and told me that I really should be a trumpet player rather than a trombonist because I had “thin lips” – even though I was the principal trombonist in most of the performing groups at the college. Worse, he took told an African-American trumpet player that he should switch to trombone because – drum roll please – his lips were too thick for trumpet.