An oboe is a woodwind instrument with a double reed. It looks very similar to the clarinet, and may be confused with it. While the clarinet's shape remains cylindrical, the oboe's body is conical. The sounds produced by clarinets and oboes are very different. An oboe's sound is produced by blowing air through the double reed at the upper end of the instrument which forces the two reeds to vibrate together which produces the sound. The oboe has four parts: the bell, lower joint, upper joint, and the reed. A person that plays the oboe is called an oboist. A typical orchestra may have two oboes but sometimes three. Sometimes there is also a cor anglais which sounds a fifth lower than the oboe. Very occasionally there is also a bass oboe, which sounds an octave below the oboe. Gustav Holst used one in his Suite "The Planets".
The oboe came from the shawm which was a medieval and Renaissance instrument. It became popular in the Baroque period. Bach and Handel both used it in most of their orchestral music. Many Italian composers such as Antonio Vivaldi wrote concertos for the instrument, and it is used in a lot of chamber music. At this time it hardly had any keys, but over time more keys were added which made it easier to play the sharps and flats.
Later composers to write for the oboe as a solo instrument include Mozart, Weber, Richard Strauss, Vaughan Williams and Francis Poulenc.
It is normal for the principal oboist in an orchestra to play the note A for the rest of the orchestra to tune their instruments to.
The name oboe comes from French language hautbois, meaning "high wood", a high-pitched woodwind instrument.