BLOG 11: How to Practice Scales

How to Practice Scales

Scales provide the means by which we develop technique.

Fingering problems on the oboe focus on the proper use of half-hole and octave keys.



Scales should be practiced slowly and evenly as a basis for fluid technique.

Different patterns of articulation should be used. Arpeggios and octaves should also be played.

A metronome and tuner are essential for both these exercises and vibrato practice.

You could use an online metronome:

METRONOME ONLINE – free online metronome

Tips for practicing Scales:

          • Practice scales slowly with a single breath, quarter note to 50 on the metronome.
          • Also, use the following rhythms: quarter notes, eighth notes, triplets, and sixteenth notes.

          • Practice scales looking in the mirror to see the position of the hands, fingers, and embouchure.

Recommended methods for Scales:

La Technique du Hautbois: sonority and mechanism, scales by Bleuzet

The scales in the Bleuzet are to be played in a single breath for each scale. Alternating the use of short fingerings with standards for the high notes as long as it sounds in tune and slurred. Always play a crescendo or blow faster air 4 notes before the high note A or G, or the highest note in the exercise. That helps the high notes come out easier and in tune.

Other recommended methods:

          • Daily Scales for Oboe by Whitney Tustin.
          • Preliminary exercises for oboe by Scozzi R.
          • Daily Exercises for Oboe by Jettl

Remember to always practice very slowly with the metronome until you play each scale exercise as closely as possible, alternating short and standard fingerings.



Specific Exercises with the Oboe Reed

1. Use a blank or an old reed: shape the embouchure of the oboe with your mouth, blow if the reed is open, or simply hold the embouchure with the reed for several seconds or a minute on the reed.


2. Exercise only with the reed: Play or whistle the note B-flat with the reed. Hold the reed with the index finger and thumb. Breathe, blow and hold the pitch of the note for four beats at 60 on the metronome. At the end of the four beats make a decrescendo. 

























Also use the notes B, C and if possible C#. Then go down: Bb, A, Ab. This is how the different positions of the embouchure are practiced in the three registers: high, medium and low.

How to do a good warm-up with the Oboe Reed

Place the tip of the reed on the lower lip. Wrap your lips around the reed. The TIP of the REED and the LOWER LIP move as a unit. Make a sound with the reed in your mouth. Take the cane out of your mouth. Using arms as heavy objects so that they help keep the reed out of the mouth instead of pushing it. The shape of the embouchure should be round, or a vertical oval like an egg (never flat), the chin in a down position, the corners pushed in, and the jaw open. All this is to improve the embouchure technique.

Hold the reed by placing your right thumb under the cork, your right index finger on top of the thread, and the tip of the reed on your lower lip. (Hold the reed at a 45 degree angle – this is IMPORTANT.) These three points of contact are similar when you hold the oboe with your right thumb under the thumb rest, left index finger on the B/middle hole key and the tip of the reed on your lower lip.

Notice that you can turn the lip and reed in for higher tones and out for lower tones. Blow through the reed and find the pitch that is sounding, it will probably be around B flat. Then you should practice pitch blending on the piano between G1 and C2. Practice from your most comfortable pitch going up to C and down to G. Chromatically play C, B, Bb, A, Ab, G. You can play the song Maria Had a Little Lamb  in LAb starting on C or inG  starting on B.

keep your tongue in an “eeeeee” position. The tongue says “eeee” and the lips say “uuuuuu” so “teeeuu” is the embouchure. It has been proven that your throat is more open and unrestricted when you say the syllable “te”.

The tone emitted by the reed should sound “free” (not tight, or unfocused). Freedom is that the jaw remains open (without biting) and the wind moves fast. Be generous with the air. Use enough air. Do not block the muscles that blow and force the air. The speed of the air  is the best way to learn how to use your blowing muscles to play the oboe.


More Long Note exercises:

Play the five whole notes in a single breath at 60 the quarter note on the
metronome, thus maintaining a stable column of air for 20 seconds. Play as close
and relaxed as possible from note to note, put the tuner on and maintain the pitch
between note and note as much as possible. At the end of five notes play a
diminuendo and exhale very slowly in a relaxed way. Rest a few seconds, and
continue with the next five rounds. Focus on connecting, good sound, tuning and
relaxation of the fingers and breathing. Pay attention to the sound tendency in
each note.

Long note exercises

LONG NOTES: the work of long notes is to achieve a stable sound in the middle
and high register of the instrument, controlling the tuning. In all long note
exercises always use the tuner (or a note like drone) and metronome.
Play whole notes with a metronome at 60 per beat. Play this exercise connecting
note with note, slurring very well, with relaxed fingers. On the fermata, exhale
slowly, then breathe in and play the next four notes. This exercise can be done
with all major and minor scales in two octaves.

Tips for choosing a good reed

1. After you put the reed in water for a few minutes, place the reed in your mouth
with your lips on the thread and blow.
2. With a soft puff of air, it should produce a pianissimo note, C.
3. Increase the air pressure to produce a louder sound with the C and make it
produce an octave higher. The sound has to be produced gradually, that is, two
sounds at the same time in octaves.
4. If several "ugly" sounds are present, the reed is too open and out of control. The
reed has to sound clean.
5. If the reed sounds higher than C or C sharp, it will be impossible to play the oboe
in proper pitch. (You will play without control in dynamics and high in pitch, it is
something that you will not be able to avoid).
6. If the reed sounds lower than a C, it means that it is unstable, you will have to
use more embouchure and bite the reed to raise the pitch and, therefore, you will
probably play loud because you are biting, and without control (the instability of
the reed will not let you have control over dynamics, intonation and sound
7. So the main thing is that the reed sounds in two octaves to the sound of a C, and
that the opening of the reed is neither very closed nor very open.

8. An exercise to know if the reed has a good tuning is that while it produces sound,
take the reed out until it reaches no more than a minor third. This ensures that
the reed is flexible enough to control it. This is called pitch  floor.

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