Thursday, October 4, 2012

Embouchure, part 2

As promised in the last entry,  here is a continuation of the topic of the oboe embouchure. 
Today I'm sharing some exercises that I give to students to develop embouchure function and flexibility.  These exercises are suitable for young players,  but I often use this as review for my young college students and for students learning oboe pedagogy.

Four-Step Process to Forming a Great Oboe Embouchure

            1.Bring your lips together is if whistling. 
            When whistling, the lips are drawn together in a rounded position that is slightly in front of the teeth. The chin is flat and the sides of the lips are drawn together. Another way to think about this is to mimic the sound of an owl:  Whooo-whooo. 

            2. Now, imagine your lips are creating an inverted whistle. 
            The lips will be formed as if whistling, but are now also slightly drawn inward. Be careful that you do not bring the jaw forward at the same time.

3. Place the oboe reed (without the oboe) on the bottom lip. 
            Only the VERY tip should be inserted just past the red, soft, fleshy area of the inner lip.

           4.  Surround the reed with your lips to create an airtight seal and blow through the reed.  
            Think of the lips as a cushion and support for the reed. The lips should never suffocate the reed, because the reed still needs to vibrate freely. When you begin blowing through the reed, the embouchure should gently hold and support the reed.

Encourage your students to try to whistle!


Hoo!  Hoo! 
Remind young players that by imitating the sound of an owl,  they are creating a great oboe embouchure. Keep observing your student's embouchure development over weeks and even months and years! Make sure they bring the corners of the lips together, keep the chin flat and drawn down, and have no puffy cheeks or air pockets in the lower or upper lips.


The following are exercises that (mostly) can be played on the reed alone.  Perfect for beginning players, but also useful for when a young student's oboe is in the shop for repair!

C! C! C! Exercises
1     1. Place your lips on the thread portion of the reed and blow (your lips should NOT be    
        touching the cane). The pitch sound, or “crow” should be the pitch C.

       2.  Second, form your embouchure around the very tip of the reed and create the exact  pitch that sounded with step 1. This exercise is often quite difficult for students.  If they haven't been using enough embouchure support before,  they will first produce a VERY FLAT pitch.  Encourage the student to use bring the corners together and possibly close the lips together more.

      3.  Next, put the reed on the oboe and play a C (third space, treble clef) with the same embouchure as in step 2. If the embouchure is correctly formed,  then the note should be in tune.


Once a student feels comfortable with the 3 Cs exercise above,  we explore embouchure flexibility.  This flexibility is incredibly important for developing accurate pitch and response in the lower and upper registers.

Flexibility Exercises on the Reed Alone:
     1. Say “EEEEEEEEE”
Form your embouchure around your reed and begin blowing. Next, while blowing position your embouchure to say “EEEEE.” The pitch of the reed should go up.

Form your embouchure around your reed and begin blowing. Next, while blowing position your embouchure to say “OOOOH.” The pitch of the reed should go down.

             3.Say “EEEEE---OOOOOOH”
Alternate between “EEEE” and “OOOOH” sounds.  It might sound like a sliding kazoo.  Discover the highest and lowest notes that you can play.  Can you play a short song such as “Three Blind Mice,” “Row Row, Row, Your Boat,” or even “Yankee Doodle”?

Practicing this sort of flexibility will be important for playing the oboe.  Low notes need more of an “OOOO” embouchure,  and higher notes need more of an “EEEE” embouchure.

1.    Memorize: the Four-Step Process for Forming a Great Oboe Embouchure
(With a short quiz in the next lesson)
2.     Practice the C!C!C!  Exercises at home for 5 minutes each day.
       This will help you build a really great embouchure.
3.    Practice the Flexibility Exercises on the Reed Alone for 5 minutes each day.  This will help you build embouchure flexibility and endurance.
4.   In our next lesson,  you will perform a short melody that you've learned on the reed alone.
4.    Write down any questions that you have so you remember to discuss them in our next lesson.

That's all for today.  I'd love to hear from you and know how you work with your own students!

Oboe and out,

Dr. G, The Oboist


  1. Do these embouchure exercises apply equally to long scrape and short scrape reeds?

  2. So helpful, thanks.

  3. This post was extremely helpful to me. I trained under two symphony principal oboists, and they never realized my embouchure was wrong for my lips. Your step-by-step instructions and exercises helped me relearn the oboe after not playing for six years, and I can play much longer now.