Oboes – Introduction


Introduction – The prima dona of the woodwinds, the Oboe is the most glamorous soloist in the band.  No other soprano instrument can project the range of emotions that the Oboe can.  Sadly, the Oboe, and all double reeds in general, are criminally overlooked by most bandestrators.  They have been thought of as mere color instruments for far too long.  This is in sad deference to the noble origins of wind bands where the double reeds were the bulk of the ensemble.

The Oboe is the true leader and soprano voice of the woodwind family.  Treat it as such.

Oboe Family

The oboe family is far smaller than most of the other woodwinds.  Traditionally, only four members have been used, with the higher Piccolo Oboe doomed to textbook obscurity.  I would attempt to reclassify the oboe family along the lines of the flute family, but the names of the oboes are so ingrained in their usage, and oboe players so stagnant in their views, that I’m afraid my endeavor would be useless.  That said, there is a sample of what the true names of these instruments should be.

Traditional Name

Practical Name

Piccolo Oboe or Oboe Musette Sopranino Oboe
Oboe Soprano Oboe
Oboe d’Amore Mezzo-Soprano Oboe
English Horn Alto Oboe
Bass Oboe Tenor Oboe

As you can see, the traditional nomenclature follows no rhyme or reason.  It exists as it is.  For the foreseeable future no further members of the oboe family are likely to appear.  As a composer, I would love to have available instruments an octave below the English Horn and the Bass Oboe (Baritone and Bass Oboes according to the chart of “practical” names), but I don’t think I will ever get my wish.


Piccolo Oboe


Oboe d’Amore

English Horn

Bass Oboe

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