Oboe vs. Clarinet (What’s The Difference?)

Are you embroiled in the oboe versus clarinet debate because both of the instruments appeal to you?

Often, musicians are attracted to these two similar-looking instruments hailing from the woodwind family.

However, when it comes to the technicalities, the oboe and clarinet are entirely different.

The oboe and clarinet have a similar design but make no mistake, they are entirely two different instruments.

The two belong to the same family of instruments, but an oboe cannot be mistaken for a clarinet and vice versa.

Despite their identical designs, the mechanisms and techniques are strikingly different.

The major difference stems from the reed, alongside other variations in design and features.

For instance, the oboe features a conical bore, while the clarinet is designed with a cylindrical bore. Length is another aspect where the two differ as the oboe is 26 inches long while the clarinet is 27.5 inches long.

A clarinet features one reed, positioned adjacent to a set mouthpiece. The oboe requires a double reed, made with two pieces of cane, vibrating against each other.

Keep reading to discover more differences and a factual discussion on the oboe and clarinet debate.

Table of Contents


Let’s take a closer look at the differences between the oboe and the clarinet.


The untrained eye often fails to find any differences between the oboe and the clarinet, given their nearly identical design.

However, a seasoned and trained musician can easily point out the elements that make them different in appearance.

Both the oboe and the clarinet feature upper and lower joints and a bell; however, the oboe features a staple.

The clarinet is designed with a mouthpiece and a barrel. The major difference stems from the reed.

The oboe features a double reed and a conical-shaped bore. At the same time, the clarinet is designed with a cylindrical bore and one reed.

Another interesting difference to note is the bell: the clarinet features a flared bell while the oboe’s bell is well-rounded.

Players will also find it fascinating to observe that most clarinets feature open tone holes. In contrast, the tone holes of most oboes are closed.

As mentioned earlier, the two instruments also differ in size. The clarinet is 27.5 inches long, while the oboe is usually 26 inches long.


The reed is indeed the most significant difference between the clarinet and the oboe. Most novice musicians can identify a clarinet without much contemplation as it features a simplistic design.

A clarinet is designed with one reed, positioned atop the mouthpiece, and held together with a ligature.

In contrast, an oboe features two reeds designed in a strikingly different fashion than the reed of a clarinet.

Naturally, the difference in design and reed placement is also visible in terms of the sounds the two instruments produce.

The oboe’s reeds are positioned against one another, causing them to vibrate to produce sound.

This difference between the reed design stems from the generation of different sounds and how these two instruments are played.

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It is interesting to note that the reeds of the two instruments are also marketed and bought in a strikingly different manner.

For instance, clarinet reeds are available in packs of 10 reeds, while the oboe reeds are sold individually.

The difference in reeds between the two instruments also stems from their strengths. What does the difference in strengths mean?

It refers to the ability of the player to suck in air through the instrument, basically, the strength of the embouchure.

Strength is a factor that matters immensely for a musician or learner embroiled in the oboe and clarinet.

You see, the strength of reeds for the oboe and clarinet can be easily marked. Obeo reeds come in various types and textures, ranging from medium-soft, medium, and medium-hard.

These strength ratings also apply to the single reeds of a clarinet. These ratings help players make the right choice to improve their embouchure and sound quality.

Sound and Range

The clarinet and oboe are both treble clef instruments, another reason why most novice musicians tend to mistake them for the same instrument.

However, they are entirely different, and another major difference lies in their sound and range.

The clarinet is typically played by the orchestra or modern bands in the key of Bb. However, they are also found in the key of A.

It is interesting to note that the clarinet features the most homogenous range amongst all the other members of the woodwind family of instruments.

This allows a seasoned clarinetist to play any given sound at any chosen point in the clarinet’s range.

The chalumeau or the lowest register features a deeply carved and rich timbre, with pure timber in the clarion or the middle register.

The altissimo, or the highest register of the clarinet, features a sleeker and brighter timbre. This design and timbre variations give birth to a sound that is strikingly rich, smooth, and mellow.

Here’s another fascinating fact: the clarinet features the widest range in the entire woodwind family of instruments.

This wide range spans over three octaves. While the oboe relies on vibrations of its double reeds, the clarinet does not require any vibrato unless it is required by the music piece.

As explained earlier, the oboe is also a treble clef instrument, and it is typically discovered in the key of C.

The oboe does not feature the large, wide, and dynamic range of the clarinet, particularly in the highest of ranges.

It features a singing, vibrant, and nasally timbre, carved in a manner that allows it to pierce through the sound of the entire instrument.

The oboe is a very animated and delicate instrument that allows its players to be as expressive as possible.

It features a piercingly sleek upper octave, while the lower octave is dark and rich. An oboe’s range also spans over three octaves.

The Tone

The two produced the oboe and clarinet are fascinating aspects that make the two instruments striking different.

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The oboe produces a clear, lively, and energetic tone that penetrates through the air, while the tone of the clarinet is rather dark, smooth, and mellow.

More interestingly, the clarinet creates a round tone, mostly in lower ranges.

The bright tone of the oboe is produced by its conical-shaped bore. If you’ve studied either of the two instruments, you’d know their distinctive uses and in different genres of music.

For instance, the oboe is typically played in diverse music genres, such as jazz. Jazz musicians adore the oboe as it can generate a broad range of tones, diving from softer tones to richer and higher tones.

Mastering the Instrument

Ease of learning is another aspect that makes the two instruments different. You see, the oboe is a very challenging instrument, and the difficulty level is much higher than that of the clarinet.

To master the oboe, you need a well-trained and seasoned instructor and the discipline to practice the instrument regularly and continuously.

The clarinet is quite easy to learn, and with 6-8 months of continuous practice, you can master the basic finger movements and techniques.

However, learning airflow techniques and advancing to dark timbre requires advanced training and more time.

Choosing the right instrument for your talents, keep in mind that oboe teachers are hard to come by.

The clarinet is a more popular and widely played instrument, and it’s easy to spot 10-12 clarinetists in a band or orchestra.

However, oboe players are always less, typically 2 or 3 in an orchestra, and that too only when musicians play this instrument.

Having a well-trained, animated, and reliable instructor is crucial as a novice because only an expert can share the knowledge that stems from experience and lessons learned through practice.

Experienced clarinetists are easier to find, making it a more convenient choice for continuous training.

Maintenance Needs

The oboe is a high-maintenance instrument, and many of its needs are rather complicated. You see, the oboe is a very sensitive and delicate instrument that requires precision to produce its sound and tones.

Adjusting an oboe with precision requires an experienced hand that is well-trained and understands the instrument inside-out.

As is the case with learning the oboe, experts who maintain and understand the technicalities of the oboe are hard to come by.

Novice players typically need an oboe specialist to tweak their instrument, maintain and repair its mechanisms.

The oboe is comparatively expensive and requires proper care and maintenance as repairing this prized instrument is also quite heavy on the pocket.

On the other hand, the clarinet is somewhat cheaper, and it can be easily repaired from any music store.

Types of Oboes & Clarinets

It is fascinating to learn the various types of oboes and clarinets and how they are played in entirely different music genres and with a distinctive set of instruments.

For instance, the Sopranino clarinet is the most popular, mainly played by musicians at concerts. The Sopranino is played with a variety of keys, such as Key A and Key C.

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The Piccolo clarinet is a rare type, and it is only played in Italian military tunes. Some other types include the Alto clarinet, Bass clarinet, and Basset clarinet.

The oboe comes in a limited range of types, including the Oboe d’amore and the Cor Anglais. The Oboe d’amore features an A pitch, while the Cor Anglais has an F pitch. The bass oboe is another fascinating type that features a one-octave sound lower than other oboes.

Historical Evolution

Before we take a closer look at the technical differences between the oboe and clarinet, let’s take a walk down history lane to understand the historical evolution of these two iconic instruments.

Historians reveal that the clarinet has revolved from instruments featuring a single reed, such as the albogue and the alboka.

However, some historical records indicate that the clarinet we see today has been inspired by an instrument known as the chalumeau.

The vision of the modern-day clarinet was actualized by a renowned Russian clarinetist, Iwan Muller, in 1812.

Muller designed a clarinet with a contemporary pad, cloaked in fish bladder or leather. This discovery allowed clarinetists to advance their learning and discover more techniques to play this magical instrument.

Muller’s innovations encouraged other clarinetists to tamper with the design, of which Hyacinthe Klosé is accredited for adding more features that can be observed in modern-day clarinets.

While the clarinet has a rich history of its evolution, musical historians fail to trace the oboe’s origins.

Very little is known about where the oboe was discovered and when it was first manufactured or played.

Historical accounts have managed to trace its first appearance in 17th century France.

The initial design of the oboe features three keys and a boxwood built.

Over the years, as the instrument evolved, more keys were added to the oboe, and the design became sleeker and thinner.

The modern oboe is typically manufactured with African Blackwood, while some manufacturers also build it with cocobolo and rosewood.


Learning the differences between these two similar-looking instruments can often help beginners and aspiring musicians engulfed in these two instruments.

Whichever you choose, both instruments are a fabulous choice, provided you have an excellent and reliable trainer.

Learning the clarinet and oboe is highly beneficial as it improves motor skills, which is why these two instruments are highly recommended for children.

You see, the precision and concentration required to learn these two instruments aid in improving management and coordination skills.

Oboe and clarinet training also encourages the improvement of memory retention, which proves beneficial in other spheres of life.

Taking up the clarinet or oboe are amazingly creative pursuits, which make their players lively, inventive, and imaginative.

Aspiring musicians are strongly advised to conduct their research on expert trainers in their area before deciding upon the right instrument for their learning pursuits.

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