I read an article that says the oboe is …

A difficult instrument to master at such an early age because of the need for a large lung capacity,…

Hmm. I never really thought large lung capacity was the big thing we needed. Okay, then.

I think of patience, first and foremost. And of course the ability to deal with a mouthpiece that changes constantly. And control. And hands that can reach the keys. Dealing with the back pressure can be difficult for some. Oh, and patience.

The article is about a young oboist. It includes this:

Meanwhile, Baugus makes her own oboe reeds out of bamboo cane, a craft that can take up to two days to complete. In the end, she often comes up with a top-end reed that could run as high as $25 if purchased commercially at a music store. However, for every perfect handmade reed, there’s scores of ones that will see the trash, she pointed out.

Hmmm. Maybe she’d like to send me a few reeds.


  1. I don’t think there’s any way to truly understand the “reed issue” with regard to oboe until one has actually made an attempt to play the beastie over a period of time (it’s…hmmm…dismaying, to say the least).

    With regard to lung capacity, I believe I have some insight – when playing oboe, one definitely needs the opportunity to exhale at least as often as one might find the need to inhale on other wind instruments, particularly brass or flute (can’t speak for the single-reeds).

    Perhaps breath control is a better description than lung capacity with regard to playing a wind instrument? It is certainly my belief that breath control atrophies along with embouchure (i. e. it requires as much effort to recover when necessary, and just as much to keep up).

    On the other hand, I think the bowing part of playing the violin is much harder to do properly than the fingering part, so what do I know.

  2. Definitely true with regards to clarinets and saxamaphones with regards to your second paragraph, Tim. Nonoboists always say that the thing that surprises them the most is how little I breathe. If we didn’t suffocate, we could go on for a while.

    I would be really confused trying to play the violin. It’s hard enough to do the finger stuff, but to now get the bow on the right string and draw it in the right direction?

  3. I don’t think you need a large lung capacity, you don’t need much air. I have a very small lung capacity (2 litres, average is 3,5 I thought) and I almost always have to exhale before I inhale, so there’s still air left in my lungs. Except when I keep playing too long without breathing, which I often do, but shouldn’t :p