Oboe is a very difficult instrument. It is especially difficult to begin. For some, it takes months — or even longer! — to learn how to manipulate that pesky reed, figure out the embouchure, and deal with all the other difficult issues on the wacky instrument.

I have recently read a blog that was about a blogger’s son’s band concert, and the horrendous sounds coming from the oboe section. To her ears, the oboes simply ruined the entire night. Ack! As difficult it was to read the rather harsh words (in upper case, even), it has spurred on this blog entry.

The tough, rough, often awful sounds oboes can produce is a major issue at a certain level, and I think band directors sometimes do something that is really a bad idea: they put beginning oboists, or oboists that aren’t “at level” into the top band because … well … they need an oboe (or oboes) there!

This is unfair to the band. This is unfair to the oboist. This is unfair to the audience. And I would think it is unfair to the band director’s ears as well.

So here are a few bits of advice I have for band directors:

  • Don’t place an oboist in a group if he or she is not playing at the level of the other members.
  • Try as much as possible to get your oboe students to get a private instructor. (I am thankful that some band directors around here insist on that!)
  • Ask the advice of oboists if you have questions: so frequently the fingering charts in the books don’t have a clue about things like left F and often incorrectly use the E flat key on the forked F.
  • Students need reeds. Students never have decent reeds if they don’t have an instructor. If you really can’t get them to take private lessons at least find a source for good reeds.
  • Store bought, machine made reeds, are pretty darn bad.
  • Under no circumstances should oboe students be using plastic reeds. Period.
  • A bad oboe is worse than no oboe at all.
  • Let me repeat: A bad oboe is worse than no oboe at all.
    These are all just off the top of my head. I'm sure there are more suggestions. And I'm SURE some readers can add to this list! 🙂


  1. Ohhh band directors! (said the lady married to one!) It seems as though all of this would be common sense kind of stuff, but alas, it just isn’t so.

  2. The one bit of advice I think they most need to follow is that first one. They SO want an oboe in their top band, they’ll put an unqualified student there. I go crazy when my students bring me music that is just FAR beyond them. Sigh.

  3. I totally agree. I recently visited a high school director had a freshman girl come to him who had never studied an instrument before. She had no idea what she wanted to play, so he put her on oboe, and in the top group. She was so beyond frustrated, and I really felt for her!!!
    I seriously do NOT know what they think sometimes. More from an egotistical point than an educational one, I think.