EMBOUCHURE

Embouchure refers to the way a player applies the mouth and lips to the mouthpiece of a brass or wind instrument. In this case, it is how you apply your mouth and lips to the reed to create a sound.

Pinky test

Put pinky in mouth and blow HARD. Seal any air leaks by applying equal pressure around the pinky from all directions. Now, do the same with your reed. The tip of the reed must be past the lips to vibrate.

Similarities

No smiling

Breathe with your mouth, not your nose (leave reed on bottom lip when inhaling).

Differences

You will go from playing with no resistance on flute to an extreme amount of back pressure from the oboe reed. It will feel like you have too much air and you will have to exhale before you run out.

  • Too much lip over teeth

  • Pressure against reed > support, but don't bite

  • Chin muscles > keep muscles firm in a downward direction, not bunching under reed

  • Angle of instrument > keep at 45 degrees

  • Escaping air > result of pulling back corner of mouth too much. Tighten corners of mouth and push slightly inward towards reed

  • Jaw movement > will open and close reed---jaw should never move

  • Puffing cheeks > breath not properly formed and directed into reed

  • Air pockets under lips > loss of control in tone

  • Too much air > exhale old air before getting a fresh breath

Pro Tips

To get used to the feeling of playing with resistance, practice breathing through a coffee stirrer.

 

The shape inside your mouth should be round and large. The back of your tongue should arch so that the tip can hover in front of the reed---it should never be below the reed.

 

TONE

Your goal is to sound a C on the reed alone and when inserted into the oboe to have a full, vibrant sound. 

Trouble shooting

Small pinched tone

  • Opening in tip of reed is too small

  • Biting reed through upward pressure with lower teeth

  • Not enough reed in mouth

Gurgling in the low register

  • Wet reed more

  • Less pressure on reed from lips

  • Drop jaw

  • Open reed

  • Check bottom pad on top joint held down by bridge key—sometimes this leaks

Squawky tone

  • Weak, uncontrolled embouchure

  • Reed too stiff

  • Too much reed in mouth

  • Too much lip over teeth

Too loud and overpowering

  • Thin reed as in this video

  • Close tip

  • Keep using support so that pitches stay stable

Hard, cold tone

  • Reed too stiff​

Weak or colorless tone

  • Lack of proper inhalation and breath support

Warning: Your face will get tired at first! You are using completely different facial muscles than before.

  • Start with 5-10 minutes of practicing with 15-30 minute breaks

  • Message face muscles and buzz lips to relax embouchure

  • Gradually work up to longer periods of practice

 

TUNING

How to Adjust Pitch
  1. Position of reed in your mouth

  2. Pressure on the reed

  3. Speed of air

To raise pitch:​

  • Roll the reed into mouth more

  • Contract embouchure around reed to increase pressure

  • Faster air

To lower pitch:

  • Roll the reed out

  • Relax embouchure to reduce pressure

  • Slower wind speed

Dynamics

  • Pitch naturally becomes sharp when louder, and flat when softer. Firm embouchure when playing softer, and relax more when playing louder.

Playing position

  • If oboe is held at a greater angle than 45 degrees or head is inclined downward, pitch is flat.

  • If oboe is held too close to body, pitch is sharp and makes a pinched, hard sound.​

  • Too much tension in the body can cause sharpness.

Mechanical factors

  • If note is flat, check to see whether key is opening enough.

  • If tone is sharp, a key or plate may be opening too much.

      Adjustment screws control opening on keys and plates.

It is best to use an electronic tuner that both sounds a tuning note and provides a visual check on the pitch. This free tuner does not make sound, but will give you a visual.

Tuning Exercise

Press play and match the sounds of C, B, and C# on your reed to increase strength and flexibility in your embouchure. C is considered neutral position.