Top B, pianissimo and in tune: here's how


Georges Bizet, L’Arlésienne Suite No.1

At the end of the first movement, the 2nd Oboe has this to play:

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 20.24.34This is nasty: a ppp entry on a top B which absolutely must be in tune. On my oboe, the Bs tend to be a little bit on the flat side, the one in the top octave in particular, so I’m always lipping them up in any case. The entry above is particularly difficult because the oboist must play the note so as to blend nicely with the other instruments in terms of volume and intonation, which means no bump at the beginning of the note and it must be in tune straight away.

The only good thing about all this is that you get a chance to test the water at bar 139 with that forte B, so you can gauge how much lip adjustment is going to be necessary for the pianissimo entry in bar 143. But even this won’t save you: top B is one of those horribly unstable notes and what works at forte won’t necessarily be successful pianissimo. I was waking up screaming about this one until my lovely friend Michaela suggested the following: add some fingers at the bottom, as shown in the photo below…

top tips top B

If you add the right-hand middle finger plus the C key, this has the effect of stabilising the note and pushing the pitch up a little bit, so you can come in very quietly, in tune, and the note won’t stick out or waver about. It works brilliantly.



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