Background Information

.In lesson 5 the children are introduced to a new instrument – the oboe.

Index for the table:

1. Discussions

2. The Oboe

3. Role of the Oboe in the Orchestra

4. History of the Oboe

5. Comparison with the French horn

6. Olive the Oboe Poem

1. Discussions:

An exploration of the functions our fingers and hands can perform will be explored during discussions. This is a great opportunity to develop fine motor-skills and gain an understanding of how pupils perceive the use of their fingers.

 2. The Oboe:
The oboe is usually made of wood (body) and metal (keys); however some can be found which are made of synthetic materials. It is a long instrument, roughly 65cm, and is played by holding it to the front. The oboe is constructed in three sections/joints (upper joint, lower joint and bell) in order to allow for precision and ease. It is played by blowing through a reed (mouthpiece). Most reeds are hand made and are often made by the oboist themselves, as each person has individual needs. Beginners usually start off with synthetic reeds and go on to buying hand made reeds or making one themselves when they get to higher levels. The oboe uses a double reed and when blown, vibrates. The oboe has a versatile tone and is part of the Woodwind family.
The name “oboe” was adopted into English in the late 18th century. Before receiving this name, the standard instrument was called “hautbois” or “hautboy” (pronounced hoh-boy). This was taken from the french “haut” meaning “high” and “bois” meaning “wood”. The spelling as we know it was taken from the Italian after it was transliterated in c.1770.

3. Role of the Oboe in the Orchestra:

Traditionally there are between 2-4 oboes in an orchestra. They can be found in the Woodwind section of the orchestra which is situated centre stage, opposite the conductor. A musician who plays the oboe is call an oboist, and just like in other sections there is a main/principal oboist. The oboe is a very important instrument in the orchestra and the principal oboist is responsible for tuning the entire orchestra before a performance.

4. History of the Oboe:

The basic form of the oboe (“hautbois”) was taken from an instrument which is believed to be its predecessor, the shawm (a 12th century instrument). The first regular oboes appeared on the scene in the mid-18th century. It is unknown exactly who or when the oboe was invented – some people give the credit to certain French families however the exact origin of the oboe remains a mystery.
The oboe became extremely popular across Europe and was the main melody in military bands until it was succeeded by the clarinet.

5. Comparison with the French horn:

Within the orchestra there are many instrument families. There are many similarities and differences between all instruments in all families.
The Oboe and the French horn belong to different families (Woodwind/Brass) and have similarities and differences which make them relatable.
There are 4 main similarities/differences between the Oboe and French horn:
  1. Material – the main difference between the two is what they are made of (the oboe being made of wood and metal whereas the French horn is made of only metal/brass).
  2. Technique – although there are similarities in the way that the instruments are played, as both use air to create sound, they differ from one and other. The French horn requires a players lips to vibrate in order to create sound. Whereas, the oboe needs a reed which is placed on  the mouthpiece in order to help create vibrations.
    (the woodwind instruments also generally need less air blown through them as they are smaller than the brass).
  3. Volume – the volume of an instrument is controlled by  the vibrations created by the air that is blown into the mouthpiece. A woodwind instruments’ volume, generally, cannot be controlled because the player does not change the levels of vibration in the lips when they play, unlike the French horn.
  4. Keys vs. Valves – these are both a similarity and difference between the two instruments. The oboe has metal keys on it whereas the french horn has valves. They both help control the flow of the are within the instrument in order to control pitch and tone.

6. Olive the Oboe poem:

As the Oboe has distinct features and a distinct sound, the children learn a poem to help them understand its features. The poem should be said in a high-pitched voice and has actions that go along with it:
I am Olive the Oboe thin and lean
I use 10 fingers as a team
Purse your lips around the reed
To make clear sounds with grace and speed!
  •  Actions to the poem can be found in the video provided under the subsection ‘Resources’ in Lesson 5 – Oboe.
Once the poem has been said aloud, the children have a chance to identify the features of the Oboe.
  • Allow them time to express their thoughts as to the appearance, sound etc.