Many beginners and even intermediate to advanced oboists are perpetrators of their own downfall because of bad habits formed out of ignorance or delinquency. Of the many detrimental behaviors oboists take on, the three most common are:

1.         Biting the reed

2.         Tension

3.         Closed throat


To remind one student not to bite down on the reed, the late Marc Lifshey said, "Oboe embouchure is like an amoeba; it moves all the time......but you, you like to take the whole reed in your mouth like some kind of great chomping machine, and the sound you get is just like that: all mechanical, and no caress!"  A more concrete method to encourage proper breath support and embouchure is to rotate the reed 45 degrees in the oboe and play without adjusting the position of the head or hands. It is almost impossible to bite on a reed with this technique. You can regulate the angle of rotation to return gradually to the normal horizontal plane as a fuller sound and un-pinched tone develops.


Tension often shows up in elevated shoulders, a closed throat and wild fingers. Maintaining good posture by using a mirror and playing while standing with one’s back against a wall will show immediate improvement. Assuming the oboe is in good adjustment, little pressure is required to close or open the keys.  To combat tension in the fingers, keep fingers close to the keys and imagine slowly squeezing a tube of toothpaste when practicing.

Humming while playing the oboe is generally agreed as an effective remedy to tension in the throat, even if the terms “open” and “closed” are disputed. It is important to remember the oboe only requires a small amount of air but a large amount of breath control.


Being thoughtful and observant will prevent these bad habits from dominating your playing.

Bad Habits of Oboists

“Oboe embouchure is like an amoeba…”

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