by Martin Schuring ©1997

Tone and Control

Begin with the slow D Major scale shown below. There are four goals:

  • Each note should have the most beautiful, easy, resonant sound possible. Use minimal embouchure tension and no vibrato - all the control should come from the air.
  • Each note should be in tune. Usually, if the sound is working, the pitch will be good also.
  • There should be the most perfect legato between notes. Move your fingers with great care, keep them close to the oboe, and don't let the air die between notes.
  • Each note should sound like each other note. Not only should adjacent notes have the same tone color, but the high register and the low register should also sound alike.

Do this exercise three or four times, or until you're satisfied with the result. Listen carefully, and insist on the most perfect execution possible. When the D Major scale is really beautiful, switch to a D-flat Major scale and try to get the same results.


Long tones are next. Be sure you accomplish the following:

  • The beginning and the end should be as soft as possible. My teacher, John de Lancie, likened the attack at the beginning to a "hot knife going into butter," and the end to "smoke rising in the air" ­ you can't be sure when the smoke ends and the air begins.
  • The forte in the middle should be as loud as you can play without forcing.
  • There should be no dips or wiggles or wavers in the sound.
  • Pitch must remain constant.
  • The long tone needs to be active throughout. Don't start soft, get loud, stay loud, and get soft. It should always be getting louder or softer.
  • No vibrato. If a trace of natural vibrato appears at the very top of the tone, that's fine.

Again, do this three or four times, or until you're satisfied with the result.

Here are two variations to try after the steady tone is really good. The first is moderately difficult, the second is extremely difficult.


Technical warm-ups are next. I begin with scales: all major and minor scales (three forms). The range of the scales will differ from individual to individual. I recommend full-range scales (composers rarely oblige by writing them neatly from tonic to tonic). Start from the tonic, go to your highest note, go down to B or B-flat, and back to the tonic. Younger students should be able to play with facility to high E-flat. More advanced players need facility up to high G. Use the metronome and set it at a speed where you can play the scales smoothly, evenly and cleanly. Never exceed a speed that you can control. Ease and facility will come from well rehearsed, frequently repeated correct motions. Speed without control is frightening. I play sixteenth notes at 112 on the metronome, but this and other metronome speeds should be regarded as suggestions only. Begin at a tempo where control and smoothness are possible.

Then, major scales in broken thirds. Again, play them full range beginning and ending on the tonic. Sixteenth notes at 92.

Then, the first two pages of the Vade Mecum of the Oboist. I play them at 116-120, but if you've never learned them, you may have to start at half that speed.

Then, practice articulation. I just use an easy scale (F Major or G Major) and play it for one octave with four (or eight) repetitions on each scale degree. Start at a speed you know you can manage (I start at 100 playing sixteenth notes), and increase one click at a time until you reach maximum. Then (and this is important), go back down one click at a time until you're out of the danger zone and can play with freedom and relaxation. For variety, use the exercise on page 16 of the Vade Mecum and apply the same practice method, changing the speed every four measures.

You may want to vary this routine to suit specific needs: diminished arpeggios, whole tone scales, pentatonic scales, scales in broken fourths, scales in broken octaves, etc. could be included if your repertoire demands it. Also, there are many good books - Bleuzet, Gillet, Debondue, etc. - that include a daunting variety of scale exercises.

The aim of my whole warm-up is to be as efficient as possible and to cover the most useful territory in the shortest time. Once learned (which takes a while), this whole routine shouldn't take longer than half an hour, and prepare you to play well for the rest of the day.