Skip to main content

Working on Sound

I got this question from a student recently, and thought it might be of interest to others.

While I have been practicing, I've been listening to Allan Vogel's recording of the Saint-Saens Oboe Sonata on Spotify and have tried to imitate his sound for the pieces I'm working on.  It's been going ok with the Telemann Fantasy, but the 3rd movement of the Kalliwoda has been a bit of a problem for me.  Since the piece is a bit more exciting and bouncy, it's difficult to maintain a darker and smoother tone.  How would you suggest approaching this piece in order to maintain a good sound?

This is such a good question, and an complicated one.  Making a beautiful and uniform sound over the whole instrument is crucial to a developing oboist, and listening to great players like Allan Vogel is a great way to proceed.  Allan Vogel playing Saint-Saens will certainly take a different approach than (hypothetically) Allan Vogel playing Kalliwoda, yes, but I bet if you froze your recordings in mid note and compared sound to sound you would clearly hear his distinctive voice in both.  The difference, I think, is in the energy of the articulation and the vibrato. 

Tp keep your listening work going, try to find a recording of one of the great oboists we spoke of performing another Kalliwoda work, or one by Pasculli, or by Krommer.  I think you will find that throughout even the most hectic passages, these accomplished players don’t lose the quality of their sound.  They may be using an intentionally livelier approach than they would in a slow Bach aria, but the core of the sound remains smooth and effortless across registers and of course stays beautifully in tune.

Here’s my suggestion.  Practice the piece as if it were a slow one, for a while.  I know you have the fingers and technique to fly through it, but fight that urge.  You want the sound of the oboe to be beautiful and effortless, and you don’t want to sacrifice that quality to the speed of the notes and articulations. 

Choose a note that figures prominently in the section you want to work on (Middle C in the main Rondo theme, for example.)  Play it beautifully.  Play it long and make sure it has the quality you want.  Add vibrato.  The vibrato will want to be fast and exciting, probably, since the piece is so exciting.  Calm it down and make it feel settled. 

Now, play through the section very slowly.  No more than 70% of your performance tempo.  This should feel pretty deadly, and not exciting at all.  Keep coming back to the beautiful C you prepared, and every time you return to that note make sure it is what you practiced.  Now, go through again and check every note within a third of that C.  Make sure they fit with the C you’ve worked on.  Make sure the intonation is appropriate, and that your embouchure isn’t going through contortions trying to make them sound like the C.  Everything should feel calm, and controlled, and you should be confident that those few notes are sounding exactly like you want them to. 

Obviously, from here you should expand your attention to include all of the other notes.  If you are leaping up or down a large interval, spend time analyzing the quality of both notes and finding the simplest way in your mouth to keep them similar in color and dynamic (and perfectly in tune).  When you play through the section - SLOWLY - you should be able to hear a core quality to all of the notes that sounds like YOU.  If you lose track of that quality, play SLOWER.

Once you have the entire section comfortable and effortless with the sound you want, you can bring the tempo back up.  As you do so, use the short bouncy articulations and accents to energize the piece, but NEVER at the expense of the beautiful sound. 

I know this sounds like a drag, but it’s a long project to remake your sound in the way you are trying to do.  It’s not hard to play with your new technique and attention to sound for a few minutes, but it’s hard to keep your attention there as you work on increasingly hard repertoire.  As you get more and more comfortable, try setting a timer to go off as you practice, every 5 to 10 minutes.  When you hear the timer, ask yourself whether you are still paying attention to your beautiful sound and creating the sound you want.  Keep bringing your attention back to your goal.

Thanks for asking the question!  I hope this helps - at least a bit - and please keep me posted on your progress!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Resonance

When my students get too MOUTHY with the oboe, I put them in a corner.

Really.

They tend to play the oboe only from the TOP of their body, north of the collarbone, and it winds up unsupported.  Fussy.  Weak.  And out of tune.

So I back them into a corner, and have them stand a foot or so out from it, facing out into the room.  And I challenge them to find a sound that resonates BEHIND them, out from the corner of the room that they are not facing, to fill the space without blowing directly into the space.

It's a weird metaphor.  I wouldn't have any idea how to describe the physical technique to do it. When I find it in myself, it feels like my back is puffy and my body is round, and large, and barrel like, and also collected and zipped up, and supremely powerful.  If you know me, you know that these statements about my body aren't remotely true.  But that's what I feel when I'm blowing well, and filling the room, and owning my resonance.

I teach resonance.  I talk …

Five Minute Reedmaker: Length of the Windows

My Five Minute Reedmaker Season Two seems to be largely about experiments.  People ask me how LONG, how THICK, how SLOPED, etc - and I'm running the experiments for them and for you.

I've been posting these videos on YouTube, and sharing them from my Facebook Page, but haven't totally kept up with sharing here on my blog.

Here are the ones you may have missed:
Length of the Heart
Fallacy of the Long Tip
Moldy Cane

And here's the new one:




Here's the YouTube playlist with all of my other Five Minute Reedmaker videos.  You could subscribe right there if you wanted to - I'm dropping a video each week until I run out of ideas this season.
Here's my website, where you can order reeds or cane or ask me questions.  Questions will keep these videos flowing! 

Here's how you can send me your own reeds to analyze and improve on video for your learning pleasure!

Everybody's Got a Thing

I went in for my yearly mammogram last week. As you know, it's not exactly a painful procedure, but it's uncomfortable, and as I was being manipulated into the unwieldy machine I got to thinking about what a peculiar job it must be to jam women into awkward positions, over and over, every fifteen minutes all day.

So after we were done I asked the technician about that, and she LIT UP, the way people do when they FINALLY get to talk about the thing they are passionate about, and she talked about the advances in the technology since she was starting out, and the things this machine was capable of.  She talked about the women it has saved, from dying of cancer, of course, but also from unnecessary surgical disfigurement.  It was completely inspiring listening to this lady love her weird job, and I left feeling fantastic about the whole ordeal. It's great to see someone who is doing what they are supposed to be doing!

Two weeks before, I had my first Mendelssohn rehearsal with…