Technique: Left F vs. Forked F

As a result of Band this past year, I’ve been increasingly exposed to music written in the flat scales, notably Bb Major and Eb Major.  Being a still relatively new student to oboe, the question I’ve arrived at is: play left F or just fork it?

A couple of months ago, I decided with my teacher to forego the forked F and use only the left F.  While this has definitely made things easier in passages and particularly sight reading, it sometimes does not seem to make sense or be the easiest.  This I’ve found especially when going from Eb to F and vice-versa, while left F makes lots of sense to utilize when jumping from D to F and back.  So I decided to take a poll on Reddit to see what observations others would have on the topic.

While there were not lots of replies, the majority favor using the left F in almost all circumstances, the primary reason being resonance.  Below are a few of the posted comments:

“I’ve found left F to be much more in tune for me, so I use that when I can and leave forked F as a last resort. This seemed to be a common thing with the other oboists around me too. It really depends on the notes around it though, and how much work my pinky is already doing…”

“For longer/sustained notes, use left F unless it’s impossible or extremely uncomfortable. Forked F is usually sharper and its tone is airy and less resonant than left/right F. If the notes are shorter, the difference won’t be noticeable, so it won’t really matter which one you use…”

“I use left F whenever an E-natural is in proximity and forked F most of the rest of the time.”

“I avoid forked F like the plague…”

Notice the commentary on resonance.  The left F does indeed sound more in tune and resonates better, clearer, and stronger.  The forked F sounds weaker, shallow, almost hollow.  I’ve found that, for short notes, holding down the Eb key while playing the forked F makes the notes sound more full, but also a bit sharper.  I think it sounds better, but it also complicates fingering that much more, by having to plant the pinkie, which is not bad when transitioning from Eb to F.  One person did comment on this technique:

“Some of that depends on the oboe. If it has a forked F resonance key, then holding down Eb will make the F ungodly sharp. It doesn’t matter how good something sounds if it plays a quarter tone out…”

On my Loree, it makes it a bit sharper, but I don’t think it’s “ungodly sharp.”  But that being said, left F definitely is where it’s at for overall resonance.  The question then becomes, how does it work within the passage being played, and just how busy is your left pinkie already?  Sometimes, it’s just naturally easier to fork the F, and as one cited, on short notes, it likely doesn’t make that much of a difference tonally.  AS for me, I will continue to utilize left F as much as possible when I cannot play the natural F fingering.  How about you?