Skip to main content

Teaching and Learning

I'm taking archery lessons with my family right now, because I have always been fascinated with this skill.  And all of my oboe-playing body-use instincts are now wrong.  I need to plant my body much more firmly, and NOT use my carefully cultivated oboe relaxation.  My tendency when I started was to use my whole body to lift and draw the bow, and in fact to manage my form I need to lock my lower body strongly and lift my arms from the shoulder and draw using my arm and shoulder and back muscles only.  I need to NOT rotate and flex my hips and back to compensate for the weight of the bow.  The muscle memory I use on the oboe is not helping me here.

But my practice habits are. I've spent time in front of the mirror isolating the exact moment in the draw where my form goes bad. I've found a way to  know what centered feels like as I stand square. I've practiced releasing without excess motion. I've gotten better, and it's fun.

There are a million parallels between learning archery and teaching music. My favorite thing right now is the way our teacher really speaks to me and Steve very differently. Intentionally so, and in a way that is welcome and necessary. Steve has a different body from me, obviously, and approaches the bow more powerfully, but still has his own form issues to work on.

I had a student get upset with me the other day.  I was talking to him - yet again - about relaxing his upper body and using relaxed air. Without the oboe, this tenth grader looks like a normal person.  He moves his body naturally and breathes like a human. As soon as he starts to play, though, his entire torso becomes
completely tense and the sound is constricted.  We have worked through many loosening-up-exercises, and a week or so ago we had a breakthrough, and he was proud.

Is this something everyone has to get through?  Does everyone learn about using Conversational Air before they get to be good?

No, I admitted.  Some people never have trouble with relaxed playing and I never have to talk about this.  Some people I talk to about engaging their muscles MORE.  It just depends on what their particular problem is.

My student was surprisingly dismayed.  I think he was looking for the oboe to be a set of concrete steps, like chapters in a textbook, or levels in a video game.

But that's not it.  Everyone comes in from a different place, with their own body and their own attitude and their own needs.   It's my job to meet them where they are and bring them to the next place, and ideally to do so week after week until progress happens and they feel it themselves.

When I began teaching I only knew how to say the things teachers had told me before, and it took some time before I realized just how creative you have to be to work with someone whose problems are different from yours.  It's ceaselessly fascinating.

And I'm fascinated and impressed, at the moment, with our archery instructor, who has made every one of us better in only a few sessions.  What a treat to be a learner in someone else's experienced hands for a change!




Comments

  1. This!

    When I started cello lessons last year, I discovered I hold my breath when I play and squeeze my lips into an oboe embouchure. Yikes! Learning to relax relax relax and to use my arm now for rhythm and my back for support and my feet for stability and my air for life. I think the best thing we can do as teachers is become a student again.

    Enjoy your archery!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well of course! How are you supposed to make music without your lips folded in and your breath under fierce constant pressure?! :-) I love it.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Discouraging Words

I can remember at least two old cranky violinists coming to talk to young me about NOT going into music.  There was a session, for example, during a Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra retreat in which a real RPO professional (who was probably 47 but whom I remember as ancient) told us that, statistically, no one who graduates from music school wins auditions for jobs because there are only like 4 jobs out there in the world and 7000 hotshots coming into the job market every week. 

Quit NOW. 

I may have misremembered the details of this speech, but I remember the emotional jolt.  It was designed to discourage.

Last weekend I was presenting at a Double Reed Festival, and heard some oboists grumbling about another presenter who had evidently given something of the same talk to a roomful of masterclass attendees and participants.  High school students and cheerful adult amateurs.

And look, there's an element of truth to this.  Classical music is not a growing field, and it is leg…

Shaq and the Oboe

Here’s my FAVORITE thing about that Shaquille O'Neal video everyone's sharing this week - it’s how HAPPY he is playing this silly game and how little he CARES what the oboe actually SOUNDS LIKE or how to play it. 
Almost as if the oboe is not a giant obstacle to overcome.

Instead of focusing on the CRAFT of the instrument, the precise fingerings, the quality of the sound, the finesse of the vibrato - his focus is on DELIVERING the SONG.   It’s on COMMUNICATION, not perfection.


What a LIBERATING concept!


When I am playing my best, I find that I can surpass the STRUGGLE and come to a place where my focus is on communication.   I can sing through the instrument, and I can use that voice to reach out and find someone else.  This is really what being In the Zone means for me - it's when I don’t have to engage with the OBOE and instead can be generous with my VOICE for the audience.


I seek and strive for this Zone all the time - it’s the whole point of practicing! I practice long…

Warming Up - Long Tones

I must not talk enough about warmups. I say this because recently, in my last lesson ever with a student leaving for college, I was mentioning something about my warmup regimen and his jaw dropped. Apparently long tones and intervals and scales with varied articulations are not part of his daily routine, nor had it ever occurred to him to use his band's warmup period to improve his playing. And I'm not telling this story on him, but on myself. Obviously I need to address the warm up period because it is fully half of the playing I do, and sometimes more.

Much of practicing is focused on learning a specific piece - either something you are performing at a specific time in the future, or an etude for your lesson, or the piece you're playing in band or orchestra. You are working on the specific problems or techniques that that piece requires. Of course you are working in as efficient a way as possible, and at the end of your practice period you can play the passage or pi…