Anatomy of an Oboe Player

What does an oboe player look like? They look human but they have some special powers. I think the oboe picks the student rather than the student picking the oboe. The oboe is a huge challenge and requires a very particular set of skills and attributes. There is nothing worse, musically speaking, than a student being placed on an instrument that does not fit them. With that in mind, let us talk about some of those “oboe player” characteristics.

Good grades – If the students are in a gifted and talented program, it indicates they have a strong work ethic, are overachievers and have a good support network at home.

Reads music – Having a music reading background from piano, violin, or voice is very helpful in overcoming the initial challenges of being a beginner oboist.

Outgoing personality – A child who looks and acts extroverted, energetic and excited about life, the oboe and music is a wonderful candidate. You do not want a child who has hyper behavior issues. The hyper child tends to lack in self discipline and work ethic. Be very intuitive when analyzing this type of child.

Quiet personality – A child who looks and acts engaged and articulate but is quiet can be successful on the oboe. Please understand there is a difference in quiet and shy. A quiet but intense child can be just as driven as an extroverted child. A shy child does not do well with all the attention the oboe receives. Be very intuitive when analyzing this type of child.

Eye contact/Verbal skills – Eye contact or lack there of reveals a great deal about a child. They should look at you when conversing and listening. Make sure the student is engaged and answering your questions rather than the parent.

Takes direction well/Follows direction quickly – Oboe players need to have the ability to pay attention, understand new concepts quickly and put that knowledge into action quickly. Children learn in different ways and at different rates, however, the beginner class will run smoother if the kids learn at the same accelerated pace.

Leadership – Children who like to lead are great candidates. They need to understand how to be involved in a group activity as well. These kids turn into marvelous leaders as they mature.

Organized/Goal oriented/Creative – You can find out about organizational skills by asking the child if their classrooms notebooks or folders are neat or thrown together. Organized is best but thrown together often shows creative traits. Creativity is often seen in asking a child to describe something. Setting goals, working towards goals and achieving goals is an absolute must. If you have an organized and creative child, there are no limits. 

Self motivated/Work Ethic – A child who practices on their own without being made to practice is amazing. A child who practices the way you teach them to practice is equally amazing. Ask if they complete all their classroom assignments and turn them in early or on time. When they have projects due, do they barely do what is required, only do what is required or do more than is required? A strong work ethic is mandatory.

Positive attitude/Sense of humor – Being an oboist is not all sunshine and rainbows. A positive attitude and the ability to smile when frustrated is a necessity. This kind of child tends to demand a lot of themselves. A positive outlook towards life in general can be a game changer.

All of these attributes are certainly desirable for all instruments. However, they are especially attractive for prospective oboists because of the challenges involved and because so few are picked to play the oboe. There is the responsibility of keeping reeds and the instrument in good condition as well.

There are a few physical characteristics such as an obvious over bite, very double jointed fingers and very small hands that will potentially be problematic for a beginning oboist.

Helping young children find the musical instruments that fit them is a daunting but exciting adventure. Our knowledgeable guidance is paramount. Children tend to do what we expect of them. We need to expect a lot and help them meet their full potential. It is our calling to help them love music as much or more then we do. That is how we assure a future full of music.

Sally Bohls is a professional performer/contractor, studio musician, and private teacher in the Dallas Metroplex and the head of oboe and ADRIT studies for Bocal Majority / Operation O.B.O.E.  She has articles published in national and international magazines. She has been playing oboe since 1967 and started teaching oboe in 1976. She holds a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Texas Tech University and a Master of Music degree from Southern Methodist University. She plays with the Lewisville Lake Symphony, Dallas Summer Musicals, and has recorded CD’s with the Turtle Creek Chorale. She has a private studio of young oboists grades 6 thru 12 and has taught at the university level. Along with her partner, Jennifer Auerbach, she has co-authored a method book for first-year double-reed classes. 

Bocal Majority is a camp for oboe and bassoon players of all levels with 20 locations nationwide. Attendees learn reed making, study chamber music, and improve on their instrument in a positive & uplifting environment. Visit their website here – – to learn more about the camp, check out their store and see all that Bocal Majority can offer you and your students.


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