At some point all oboists experience embouchure fatigue while playing, regardless of  whether they are a beginner or professional. However some performers seem to be able to play endlessly with little effort, while others tire after only a few long-tones. Naturally, credit for increased endurance goes to the person who  practices regularly and for a significant duration each session. Even so, there are things an oboist can do to increase the time before embouchure fatigue sets in.

Increasing the strength of the embouchure through regular practice and playing on reeds stiffer than normal, be they new and not yet broken-in or just heavier, will strengthen your chops. This method however has limitations because the facial muscles are extremely thin and are not able to be developed in the same way as the biceps or quadriceps. Therefore, other methods of increasing endurance must be used.

Playing on the very tip of the reed allows the oboist to control the intonation and tone more easily than if the embouchure surrounds the reed further back where the cane is thicker. One method of practicing this is to attach a neck strap to your oboe and adjust the length to the point where, when the strap is pulled gently taut, your embouchure can only but play at the tip of the reed. You’ll find, with time, your embouchure will be what Jay Light calls “an outward pucker”. With the correct breath control and acclimatization to this new position, you’ll find your tone, projection and endurance will all improve.

Another impediment to good embouchure endurance is an unstable or inefficient reed. While you might have a reed that blows as light and easy as a flute, it might very well lack stability causing you to overly control the pitch; often ending up sharp! An inefficient reed is one that yields very little sound or volume compared to the amount of wind or effort put into it. This is easily checked by gently blowing into the reed and slowly increasing the air until it begins to sound; first the initial “C” then the second and third “C’s”. Be mindful of how much air and force you must use before all three pitches will sound. If you’re  getting red in the face before the second “C” the reed is too inefficient. Scraping in the right place or two will allow more vibrations to sound earlier and allow you to lessen your effort.

With these tips, you’ll soon be playing all three Schumann Romances on your next recital.

Embouchure Endurance

“Your embouchure will be “an outward pucker”

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