I'm a composer and creating a new piece of music involving an oboe. I have been studying some possibilities for the oboe to create a particular atmosphere with wide interval playing, such as found in Luciano Berio's Sequenza VII.

I read that for the oboe, arpeggios and wide intervals are not very practical. However, in the piece by Berio there are several measures that have rapid alternation between B4 and a note a minor 9th above or below.

For example:

  • B4 and C6
  • Bb3 and B4
  • D4, B4 and Bb5

In the orchestration book by Walter Piston, he displays various common harmonics for the oboe, and mentions that for some of the higher, the harmonic partial is displaced an octave plus a half tone from the fundamental (minor 9th).

Are these wide intervals written by Berio, harmonics? Is there a way to determine which wide intervals can be actually played considering the oboe possibilities?

I'm looking for minor 9ths, as in the piece mentioned...

Thank you!!

  • You might start by asking a local oboist what intervals are reasonable. Jun 26, 2018 at 12:13
  • 1
    Indeed, check with real players. Always try to make the performance as easy as possible -- this helps in getting the music performed. A professional player will probably play anything you care to write, given enough time to prepare. An amateur might never be able to play some things. The odd part is that some things might look complicated and be quite easy to play, others might look simple and be quite difficult. Whenever possible, weed out the difficult parts if possible (sometimes they are the real meat of the composition).
    – ghellquist
    Jun 26, 2018 at 18:54
  • The named intervals all are playable with regular fingerings, but obviously the practicality depends on the speed at which you want them played/alternated. Jun 26, 2018 at 20:17
  • @ghellquist - indeed. Years ago I played oboe in a wind quintet, and we had a work composed for us that was difficult for me, but not impossible- with the exception of a passage of fast notes at the very bottom of the range, which required jumping the little finger from one key to another at a speed that at least I didn't have. Would have been a snap on the clarinet, or up a couple tones on the oboe. Jun 27, 2018 at 6:03

1 Answer 1


None of these ninths are harmonics of one another on the oboe. And despite Walter Piston, I'm unaware of any minor ninths on the oboe that are. As far as I know, the only harmonic fingerings used on the oboe are the first (fundamental, 1/1), second (octave, 2/1) third (octave and a fifth, 3/1) and fourth (two octaves, 4/1). There are no ninths there. I'd be curious to hear what Piston thought was a minor ninth played as a harmonic interval on the oboe.

That said, it's not difficult to produce minor ninths on the oboe, at least fairly quickly. The usual limiting factor in speed of playing an interval is that the deepest tones of the oboe take a little longer to speak than the higher ones, especially if played softly.

  • " the deepest tones of almost any instrument take a little longer..." FTFY :-) Jun 26, 2018 at 17:24
  • 1
    @CarlWitthoft - true enough. But the oboe is slower to speak at the bottom than any other wind instrument I know of the same pitch. Jun 27, 2018 at 5:58

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