The term 'oboe' derives from hautbois, the French for 'loud wood (wind)'. Oboes are reed instruments with three joints, developed from the shawm, a medieval version with an opening like a trumpet and a more raucous tone. The invention of this instrument is usually ascribed to Jean Hotteterre (died 1690), a maker and player of woodwind instruments at the court of King Louis XIV of France (reigned 1643-1715).

The ensemble depicted at the bottom of this late-17th century instrument is playing from a book laid flat on a table. Until the appearance of music stands in the 1700s, this was the normal way of playing from sheet-music.