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What Is the Range of an Oboe?

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  • Written By: Lee Johnson
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 16 July 2014
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The range of an oboe is from B3 flat to A6. The bass oboe has a slightly lower pitch than the modern oboe, and has a range from between B2 to G5 flat. The modern oboe can have higher range in some circumstances, but the highest notes have a poor tone and don’t sound out as clearly as the lower notes. The notes' names are written out in relation to their positions on a standard 88-key piano, with middle C being referred to as C4, or the C note in the fourth octave.

Oboes are classed as woodwind instruments, which produce sound when air is vibrated between two reeds inside the instrument. To change the pitch of the note produced, the player can cover various holes with his fingers, different combinations of these holes causing different notes. The instrument has 10 or 11 holes in the top half, which is operated by the left hand, and 10 holes in the bottom section, which is operated by the right hand. These holes have to be used in conjunction with one another to play the full range of an oboe.

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Musical instruments all have a certain range, which essentially means the space between the lowest note they can produce and the highest note they can produce. On a piano, this would be from A0, which is the key farthest to the left, to C8, which is located farthest to the right. The lowest note that can be produced on a standard oboe is the B note in the third octave, located just below middle C on a piano, while the highest is the A note in the sixth octave. An “octave” is an entire range of notes, including flats, from C to B flat.

Splitting the full potential range of an oboe into four parts can provide a good overview of the tonal characteristics of the different parts of the range. From the B under middle C to the F above middle C, the oboe produces a thick and full tone. The second section of the range, from G4, which is the second line on a treble clef staff, to A5 in the octave above, gives a warm and clear tone. From B5 to E6, the instrument loses some of its warmth, but still provides a clean, even tone; any higher and the notes become more unpredictable and begin to falter. The notes between G4 and A5 generally provide the best tone out of the entire range of an oboe.

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