Saturday, August 15, 2015

Teaching a Beginner

I'm still playing outdoor concerts, but it's suddenly the beginning of the teaching year!  Here's a post about starting out right - please share your own embouchure teaching ideas so we can ALL set out on a good foot!

I had a new student start with me last week.  This was a young boy, who had had a year of band but no private lessons on the oboe.  I spent the first 10 minutes of the lesson getting his equipment to work for him, and the next 15 making him sound like a million bucks, just by setting him up with a good embouchure.

The oboe embouchure is not the most intuitive mouth shape to use.  If you weren't told, you might never think to turn your lips inward in order to blow outward.  You might not naturally come up with the balance of tension and openness that translates to a projecting, controlled, nuanced sound.  It's not an obvious approach, and this particular 11-year-old wasn't even close.

My favorite thing about teaching is how different all of my students are from each other.  Many of the problems are common, but different people need different words to understand new concepts.  I've developed a lot of different versions of schtick to talk about embouchure to students.  Some work better with one and some relate to another.  It took me a few minutes of rapid fire options to connect with my new student.

I talked first about what I saw:
Tuck your lips inside your mouth.  Now your mouth is too flat - think about being round.  Bring the corners of your mouth in.

Then I talked about what it might feel like:
Pretend you are sucking on a lemon - make a sour face! Great, now pretend there's a ping pong ball on your tongue, so your mouth is open inside your mouth. Now think about keeping the dry part of your lips on the reed...

Then I went farther afield with my imagery:
Be a little owl, crying "Hooo! Hoooo!"  Now bring your lips inside.

Be a French person, with your face balanced forward.  Now drop your chin and pull it back into your neck, like Prince Charles.

I tried the analytical approach:
Pretend you are at McDonalds, drinking a milkshake.  First you have to seal your lips around the straw, so no air leaks out.  BUT, if you clamp the straw tight shut with your mouth, there's no room for the milkshake to come through, right?  So you have to keep the straw round and also sealed.  Also, pretend you are sharing with your best friend and you don't want to get spit on the straw, so roll your lips in so the dry part of your lips is on the straw... Do you see where this metaphor is headed?

Finally, this one really worked for him:
Imagine a cute puppy.  Say it with me - CUUUUUTE.  Now, as you're saying that, the puppy is leaping onto your lap and licking your face.  Tuck your lips in so he can't lick inside your mouth.  Because dogs are gross.

And that was it.  THAT'S IT!  Put that on the reed.  Do you hear how great that sounds?  Play me a Bb.  Play me a scale.  Reset, with your lips inside (so the puppy doesn't get them), and play it again.  YAY!

I love young students.  I love teaching.

Who's got more mouth imagery to share?


2 comments:

  1. I have always thought of you as an exceelent music teacher Jennet.When I was a sudent in Greece we emplyed an adjective to charcterize the qualitie of a teacher: "transmissiveness". The translation is awkward, but you ubderatnd what I mean. I have not encountered it in this context here. You possess it in in the nth degree.Congratulations!(When you develop a technique to teach denture wearers, let me know.)
    So, regretfully now I must part from my fond memory of Lauren Bacall telling Humphrey Bogart: "Put your lips together and blow"! (To have and to have not).But then again the goals were ...less musical.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Transmissiveness." I love it. Thanks, Dimitri!

    ReplyDelete