So I'm aware that oboe is one of the hardest instruments to pick up and learn (partially because of embouchure, reed maintenance, etc.) but I love the instrument and I'd really like to start learning. I've been playing for 6 years currently on the clarinet, and so I was wondering how hard it would be to adapt to the new oboe embouchure, etc.?

I have had a tiny bit of experience with bassoon (I tried it out once at school) and I actually found the reed and embouchure quite easy to get - I was able to play almost 1 1/2 octaves. I understand that oboe embouchure is much tighter and the reed is narrower (with much more resistance), but most of the defining characteristics of the embouchure would carry across right (e.g vibrating the double reed)??

Hence would the resistance on the reed be significantly different to the clarinet? I currently play with a 3 1/2 Vandoren clarinet reed - is there a massive difference?

Also - if anyone's got some good tips for buying a student-intermediate oboe at a relatively cheap price, that would be incredible! Honestly, I'm having a hard time understanding all the different specifications of the oboe (like semi vs. full automation, conservatory systems and how left F keys or 3rd octave keys factor into the different playing levels of the instruments)... :)


  • Please consider that question asking about equipment suggestions are considered off topic here (I'm obviously only referring to the last section of your post). Jun 23 at 1:28
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    They are instruments that belong to the "same" family, but they're quite different. Coming from a "similar" instrument, you'll probably already know some important aspects that will reflect on the oboe in a similar way, but, answering to a question such as "how hard will it be" is pointless: we could give you lots of advice or experience-based suggestions, but you should also consider that SE communities are intended for general public: while your question could be useful to somebody, it's unlikely that any actual suggestion valid for you would be fine to anybody else in your situation Jun 23 at 1:34
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    I agree with @musicamante, this question is pointless and also opinion based to an extent. A few questions for you: Is this something you really want to do? Is the amount of difficulty you think you would encounter significant enough to discourage you from doing it? If your answers are yes and no then go get yourself an oboe! Jun 23 at 1:49
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    +1 for @JohnBelzaguy: if you really want to "switch" to oboe, then you shouldn't really be preoccupied by "how hard would it be": any instrument is hard. Just do it. «Do. Or do not. There is no try». Jun 23 at 2:04
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    @musicamante - In many schools at least in the U.S. (where I'm most familiar), one of the most common pathways to playing oboe is to start on clarinet (as many primary general music teachers feel double reeds are too "finicky" and/or don't feel they have the skills and background to teach well), so I think the general question of how hard it is to switch between these two particular instruments is useful for a large audience. Yes, it's vague to address this specific person's specific case, but the general question is perhaps relevant to a lot of folks.
    – Athanasius
    Jun 24 at 3:09

I love the instrument and I'd really like to start learning

Then do it. I'm almost 48 years old. About two months ago I started French horn lessons. I have never played a brass instrument before. I'm sure you know that in the brass family, the French horn is seen as the difficult one. I thought a lot about taking up the trombone or the trumpet, but I realized that even if I got a great sound out of one of those, it will never speak to me the way the French horn does. And no matter how frustrated I might get at the French horn, I'll be on a path with a destination that I am really excited about.

So it doesn't matter how hard it is. You love it, you want to learn it, so do it. I'm extremely confident you won't regret it (I'm super happy with being a terrible horn player - for now!)

Regarding the rest of your questions, I have a suggestion that worked out very well for me:

The first thing you do is find a teacher. Book a first lesson and tell the teacher when you're booking the lesson that you have musical training in the clarinet, you want to learn oboe, and you don't yet have an oboe.

The topic of the first lesson is all of your questions. Where can you get a decent oboe, what to look for in a beginner instrument, what kind of reed to start on, synthetic vs cane, pre-cut vs learning to cut your own, etc. If the teacher is reluctant to discuss these things or doesn't provide you with effective help, maybe you don't want them as a teacher and you should look around more.

When I started clarinet lessons I had an old instrument I'd picked up so that's what I used, but my teacher started talking about it and what maintenance it might need pretty early on. So when I started French horn, I did exactly as I suggest and had a first lesson before I even had a horn. My teacher did a great job of telling me where to find "affordable" used horns (the price of entry for a double horn is very high) and also talked to me about things that didn't really matter that much until I'm much more advanced. In the end the cost of a lesson where I didn't learn to play at all was nothing compared to the benefit of starting off with the equipment and the sheet music that would get me going on a solid footing right from the second lesson.

I strongly suspect that a lot of your embouchure from clarinet won't translate to oboe. But what I'm very confident will translate are:

  • Your overall lung power
  • Your understanding of "fast air"
  • The strength and development of your lip muscles
  • The greater kinesthetic sense of your tongue compared with someone who has never played a wind instrument
  • Your ability to read treble clef and your understanding of music
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    «the French horn is seen as the difficult one». Well, the French horn is a difficult one - as much as it's a wonderful instrument. We've a common joke, and I bet it's not only a local one: When you buy a French horn, the price includes all the wrong notes. (we call them "scrocchi", that is a jargon for notes that come out wrong even if you tried all you could to get them right). Jun 23 at 2:11
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    @musicamante One thing I find very pleasant about learning the French horn is that my worst notes make me laugh because I sound like a dying elephant. On the clarinet, when things go wrong as a beginner it's usually painful to the ears. Horn is a lovely instrument to be terrible at by comparison. My only complaint is that my ear is good enough that I can tell how wretched my intonation is, and I know that's going to be a long, long road on the horn. Jun 23 at 2:13
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    if you're experienced enough, you already know that that road will be as long as it will be interesting and wonderful - and as much as long as the air column is... That said, we could change the above saying with «When you buy a French horn, the price includes all the wrong notes, lots of laughs and even an elephant!». And since I know some fellow horn players that are able to do it, there's a hidden easter egg too: if you get good enough, there's also a helicopter! Jun 23 at 2:26
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    Excellent advice, and I think sharing your personal experience will serve the OP well. Jun 23 at 4:00

The oboe is much harder to play than the clarinet. Your experience on the clarinet will help a bit, a lot of the fingerings will be familiar. The oboe has much more resistance, you will need to re-learn a lot of your breath control. The embouchure muscles work differently and it will take a long time to build them up, your clarinet experience won't help much.
There will be a lot of work do do, but if you like the oboe then go for it. Get a good teacher, you won't have much success without one.

For keywork: get a full automatic conservatory system instrument (most are) , it will work like you're used to from the clarinet.

  • Not to mention that most serious oboists end up making their own reeds, a major time-pig! Jun 23 at 17:42
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    @CarlWitthoft — I knew a married couple who were both oboists for the NSO. They lived a three-bedroom house: one bedroom was for sleeping, one was his reed-carving room, and one was her reed-carving room. Both reed-carving rooms looked like hamster cages from all the wood shavings on the floor.
    – Malvolio
    Jun 23 at 19:34

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