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Improving Your Tone on the Oboe

By Maryn Leister

Running an oboe reed business and all, I often get requests or inquiries about reeds and the desired tone they'll produce. And while I agree that reeds play an important part in determining your sound on a given day, I am old-fashioned and in favor of hard work to get the tone you want!!

I'll always think of my teacher, Richard Killmer, who could take your most crude, unfinished reed and make it sound amazing.

So, what's the secret?

The secret is that your tone is your voice, and it can be developed and matured like any other voice.

As oboists, we are always so quick to blame the reed, or let the reed become our personality.

But your tone is your personality, and it will come through in your playing pretty much no matter what you do. But there certainly are steps you can take to refine your voice and make it sound more like the ideal sound you hear in your head.

The hard work you have to do is long tones!!

Not just any long tones, but mindful long tones. That means that for 15-30 minutes a day you concentrate and listen and notice all the subtleties of your sound.

You'll spend hours (although they'll fly by) trying to stop and start a note just the way you want it, and hours more slurring up and down between notes to get that seamless buttery-ness that comes from you, and not your reed.

Plugging in a great reed will never do you justice if you haven't spent time on identifying your voice and refining it. The best part about working in this way is the rewards you will see slowly, but consistently over time.

You'll probably struggle daily with long tones for a while, have bouts of frustration.....and then finally it will happen!!

You get to perform a Bach cantata, and you still feel like you are struggling. Someone gives you a recording, and although there is always stuff you'd like to do over, you notice a transformation of your sound!

It sounds effortless and liquid, just what you have been hearing in your ear for the last few months. Those moments make it all worth it because you have somehow transferred the voice you've had in your head to your oboe playing!

Just remember the rewards that you will reap from working hard to "find yourself" the next time you are in a reed slump. The reed is just the vehicle for a sound - your voice is what you make it.


Oboist and entrepreneur Maryn Leister helps beginner, intermediate and professional oboists become happier oboe players.

She is owner of the oboe learning company MKL Reeds and publisher of the Reed Report and Oboe Success Tips Newsletters. Each newsletter is full of straightforward tips on becoming a better oboe player and on taking control of your oboe reeds.