Composing for Oboe Composing for a Solo Instrument >

Guidance on composing for oboe. BCMG oboist Melinda Maxwell talks on video about composing for oboe: the range, traditional and extended techniques and composing idiomatically for the instrument. 

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Oboe range

Oboe range

Extended techniques on the oboe and how to notate them 1

The suggested extended technique notations below are only suggestions. Please feel free to invent your own or just write in the part what you would like the musician to do. All the note heads we have used can be found in the Sibelius software.

Flutter tongue

The musician uses the throat or tongue to create a fast vibrating sound like a buzz or ‘flutter’. 

Oboe flutter tongue


The musician plays intervals smaller than a semitone such as quarter tones (4 divisions of a tone) and even smaller by using different fingerings or embouchure (mouth).

Oboe quartertones

Key clicks

This is simply the the noise of the keys. On the oboe these are unpitched. Only to be used sparingly in quiet passages.

Oboe unpitched key clicks


A bending of pitch between between two notes either up or down. For the oboe, a glissando is only possible for intervals up to a third.

Oboe glissando

Pitch bend

The musician moves up or down to a note through a sliding sound similar to a glissando. There are a few variations: rising up to the note; dropping down to the note; dropping off from the note; rising up from the note. 

Oboe pitch bend




Extended techniques on the oboe and how to notate them 2


This is movement within a pitch that enlivens it and is used to create expression. It can be very wide and obvious or very small and gentle.

Write con vib above stave

Blowing down the instrument

The musician blows down the oboe without the reed to make an airy/windy sound.   

Oboe blow down instrument

Wind tones

The musician plays the instrument without making pitched note. Creates a breathy, windy sound.

Give a verbal or written instruction



Finger trill

The musician alternates playing the same note with two different fingerings. This produces a fluttering effect on the same note through changes of tone colour and slight pitch changes.

Oboe finger trill

Playing the reed

The musician uses just the reed. The range of pitches that can be played depends on the player and will be approximate

Oboe play reed


Suggested listening

To listen to the following tracks you need to have Spotify open on your computer.