Highs and Lows with the Oboe

On Tuesday at Fishtown Recreation Center, we learned about the oboe, and the difference between high sounds and low sounds on an instrument.

The oboe is a woodwind instrument played with a small mouth piece made of two reeds, known as a “double reed”. Oboes are commonly seen in symphonic orchestras and chamber ensembles. You might recognize the sound of the oboe from the theme of Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake or in John William’s score for Star Wars.

To show the range of the sounds an oboe can make, I played “Hedwig’s Theme” from the Harry Potter score by John Williams.

a student assists me by holding up my sheet music

Then, we talked about the difference between high pitch sounds and low pitch sounds on the oboe. Students remarked that the high pitches sounded like birds, and the low pitches sounded like singing men or bears. 

For the interactive part of the lesson, I made colorfully-painted cardboard arrows for each of the students. We practiced listening for high sounds and low sounds. When they heard a high sound from the oboe, they pointed the arrow up. When they heard a low sound from the oboe, they pointed the arrow down. Some of the students were even more specific, and were able to identify a mid-range pitch by pointing the arrow in between up and down.

Then, we added a collaborative element to the arrow-pointing. The students stood in a circle, while I played oboe in the middle. I went around the circle, pointing at them with the bell of the oboe, and they got to decide if the pitch of the instrument would go up or down based on the direction of their arrow. They got to hear a sliding scale of oboe pitches, from bassy B-notes to squeaky C-notes. Some of the students wanted to work with the people standing next to them to make the sound go way higher, and others competed with each other to make the sound go back and forth between two adjacent pitches.

After the lesson with the oboe, the students gained a greater familiarity with an obscure but important orchestral instrument, and enhanced their ability to identify differences in pitch.

Sophie is a working artist and designer, with a background in drawing and painting. This is her first semester teaching with Art Sphere.

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