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 play oboe--want to double on sax
Author: KJC 
Date:   2014-05-13 21:22


I'm an oboe player. I've played it pretty much exclusively since I was a kid with a long break of not playing when I was furthering my non-musical career. I currently play the oboe in various community groups. I did play the saxophone during marching season in high school because of the similar fingerings to oboe. I recently rented an alto sax because I'd like to play it in other community groups and a community marching group. I don't intend to focus on it as I do the oboe, but I would like to develop a good sound.

While I have a nice tone on the oboe, my saxophone tone and vibrato are not very good--It actually still sounds like I'm playing a louder and not so nice oboe. I think my embouchure may be too tight. Also the sax seems to take a lot more air to me and the vibrato technique is completely different. To be fair to myself, I've only been playing the sax on my own a week.

Has anybody here started playing the sax well after playing the oboe? Did you run into any challenges with this? If so, how long did it take to also develop good tone on the sax? Did lessons help? Thanks! Any experiences would be helpful.


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 Re: play oboe--want to double on sax
Author: concertmaster3 
Date:   2014-05-14 01:57


I'm primarily an oboist, but a multiple woodwinds specialist.

One of the things I teach my students switching instruments is start from the very beginning. They all begin with the basics, like embouchure development, no matter what their experience level on their previous instrument might have been. Once these fundamentals are set and in place, everything else falls into place very easily.

So to start, I'd have you work on mouthpiece pitches, probably for at least a week, without putting the saxophone together. This worked wonders for me on clarinet and on saxophone. On alto sax (which is what I'm assuming you're playing), you'll want to hit A-880 (on oboe, A with the octave key). Remember that the embouchure's job is to create a seal around the mouthpiece and reed to ensure that all of the air goes into the instrument. The shape of the embouchure is going to be very similar to the oboe, a soft cushioned "O"-shape, but your top teeth will touch the mouthpiece (as long as you're going with the more conventional single lip embouchure).

For vibrato, you'll want to wait until your embouchure is well set up. But only after the embouchure and air are in place, will you move to this. This is where saxophone is different from the other woodwinds that use vibrato regularly. The saxophone (and the clarinet when vibrato is used) uses jaw vibrato primarily. For this (remember...after the embouchure is set up properly) you will mimic saying "Wah-Wah-Wah-Wah" with your mouth.

You'll definitely want to take lessons with a saxophonist, although, once you get the basics together with this teacher, you'll probably be well on your way to being able to figure out a lot of other stuff yourself. All of the above tips are much easier explained in person and with someone who can point out your faults and help you fix them on the fly. Remember though, that your musicality does transfer from one instrument to another!

A little background on me to answer your questions at the end...I started musically as a violinist, moved through the stringed instruments in middle school and started oboe in 9th grade. I began to pick up other woodwinds, and saxophone was next to last, during my junior year (I wanted to play flute in jazz band, so I learned alto sax). In about a week, I was playing with the jazz band. With regards to technique, I was ready in that short time period, but I would have benefited from a few lessons with a saxophonist to get a better sound.

Hope this answers your questions!


Ron Ford
Woodwind Specialist

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 Re: play oboe--want to double on sax
Author: KJC 
Date:   2014-05-14 03:13


Thanks so much for your response. I will start with the mouth piece pitches. I don't think I am supporting the embouchure correctly with my air column. It's very different from the oboe. I'm playing on pitch but when I try the "wa wa" it undulates too much and goes too flat. Anyway, it's good to know that these things can be taught. I'm playing in a beginner's band this summer, and the director is a clarinet and saxophone specialist, so this should help as well. I think I'll ask my oboe teacher for a reference for a saxophone teacher tomorrow.

Best wishes,


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 Re: play oboe--want to double on sax
Author: oboeidaho 
Date:   2014-09-11 22:13

Hi KJC, Ron's answer is great, but I thought I would add a little more, as an oboist who also played a little sax in the HS marching band but never had lessons.

About 10 years ago I was asked to play a show that had oboe/EH plus tenor sax, and I figured I'd give it a shot. Since then I have played many doubling shows, and looking back I bet my sound was pretty appalling the first year or so! I mostly play tenor or bari, and I have bought better instruments (which makes a huge difference of course!) and mouthpieces, and have a much greater appreciation for single reed problems!

I would recommend listening to good saxophone playing in the genre you are trying to emulate (showtunes, jazz or whatever). I definitely have more of a classical sound, but I have worked hard to branch out. I joined a casual (non-paying) swing band- a show up when you have time sort of thing- and that has really helped to play in a sax section with GOOD players.

And an occasional lesson is great, of course every week would be wonderful, but I don't have time for that. So I go in 3-4 times a year with the saxophonist I consider the best in town, and it really helps me stay on track. I also do this with clarinet.

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 Re: play oboe--want to double on sax
Author: Jaysne 
Date:   2015-01-09 08:47

I'd like to stress the importance of a good teacher. Nothing will help you more than one-on-one feedback from a live human being sitting next to you. Make sure this person is a professional sax player.

The descriptions you give of your sax playing are right in line with a normal beginning sax player. Having a teacher guide you--and play for you so you know what you want to sound like--is by far the best way to get better as quickly as possible.

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 Re: play oboe--want to double on sax
Author: Oboelips 
Date:   2015-07-28 22:10

I'm an oboist (orchestral and pit orchestra) who occasionally doubles on sax. My husband was a sax major, so I do have built-in lessons, as well as using his alto which darn near plays itself!!

The key to a good sax sound still uses an "O" embouchure, and I have to do long tones to re-establish a good sax sound That seems to be the most important thing, and the fingers fall into place after that. Other than that, and having to sit on a board and a pillow to play (I'm short and have neck issues) , it's all fun.

Just got through with "State Fair" , Reed 2, which was Oboe 60%, English Horn 10%, and Alto, 40%. Good fun.

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