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.
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.
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.