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The oboe is a high-pitched double-reed orchestral woodwind.

Introduction

The oboe is a double-reed aerophone . It is the small, high-pitched woodwind that usually gives the tuning note in the Western orchestra .

The instrument

The mouthpiece of an oboe is basically two small rectangular pieces of reed that are bound together. The player blows air in between the reeds, making them vibrate against each other. The rapid opening and closing of the tiny space between the two reeds begins a vibration that is picked up and refined as a standing wave in the body of the instrument. (For more on this, see Standing Waves and Wind Instruments .) The reeds are quite small, thin, and delicate. They must be replaced often, and most oboe players shape their own.

The body of the instrument is usually made of dark wood. From a distance, it looks a great deal like a clarinet , but its double reed mouthpiece and narrow conical bore (as opposed to the clarinet's more cylindrical shape) give it an unmistakable reedy timbre with very strong upper harmonics . You may recognize this sound as the tuning note that begins most orchestra concerts.

Metal keys are used to help cover the holes in the body of the instrument, making fingering easier. Most modern woodwinds have settled on a standard key and fingering system, but different oboes may have different key systems (arrangements of the keys) and different fingerings. (The other common orchestral double-reed, the bassoon , also has a variety of key and fingering systems. Boehm's key system, which revolutionized many of the woodwinds, does not work well for double-reeds.)

Two instruments closely related to the oboe are the oboe d'amore , and the cor anglais , or English horn . Both are double-reeds, but both have the reed at the end of a curved or angled crook , rather than directly on the end of the instrument's body. Both have a rounded-bulb-shaped rather than a flaring bell at the other end of the instrument. The oboe d'amore is slightly larger than the standard oboe, and the cor anglais is even larger. As you would expect, the oboe has the highest range of the three, and the cor anglais the lowest.

History

Double-reed pipes are an ancient family of instruments, dating back thousands of years. The aulos of ancient Greece was a double-reed pipe, and a double-reed pipe dated to 2800 BC has been found in Ur (in what was ancient Sumeria). It is not clear whether double-reeds spread from Sumeria or were invented independently in various places, but the shawm had definitely been introduced in Europe (from points east) by the twelfth century. It was a loud instrument that was generally played outdoors. (The sound of a shawm might remind you more of bagpipes, another outdoor reed instrument, than of the orchestral oboe.)

The oboe is descended from the shawm, and was developed to be a shawm-like instrument that was suitable for indoor use. Even so, its French name - haut bois (high wood) still suggests a "loud woodwind". France had indoor oboes by the seventeenth century. These early oboes were more easily playable than early brass and other woodwinds such as clarinets, so the oboe was the first wind instrument to be regularly included in the orchestra, in the late seventeenth century.

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Source:  OpenStax, A parent's guide to band. OpenStax CNX. Jun 25, 2007 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10428/1.1
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