Skip to main content

Separating it Out

Last semester, my student came in with the Hoedown from Copland’s Rodeo. 

Let me guess, I said - the low tonguing passage?

Of course she assumed that she had a tonguing problem.  We always assume that.

I started by checking her oboe. There’s no point in beating yourself up to tongue a low D if your instrument is fighting you.  Turning screws is less work than practicing.  That could have been but was NOT the problem.

Then, in rapid succession, we isolated and improved her air, embouchure, and fingers.  Within 20 minutes we had solved the passage and moved on. 

All of these aspects of oboe playing get so tangled up as we work on difficult pieces and passages.  You can work on something as HARD and as EFFORTFULLY as you want, but it can’t really get better until you can isolate your issues and get to the bottom of them.

In our case, I started by taking the tonguing out and asking her to slur the passage. It sounded terrible.  We slowed it down and I asked her connect all of the notes on the air.  It was still not totally working so we simplified down to a low D long tone. I had her crescendo it to the second bar of each two bar phrase.  Once we had that under control we added fingers to the air.  Again, SLOWLY, to make sure all of the connections were smooth. It took a little effort to connect the F#s to the Ds, because she also had to be reminded to work for the low note by using her embouchure to reach DOWN, and then to reset so that all of the notes in the passage could operate from the same easy low face.   We brought that line gently back to tempo, focusing on good relaxed warm air and quality connections, and on soft agile fingers. 

Only then did we bring articulation back into the picture.  I had her play the passage very slowly with a clear LEGATO tongue.  Focusing on the density and saturation of the NOTES, and minimizing the tongue as much as possible.  Dah dah dah dah DAH dah dah dah, etc. We brought that task gradually back up to speed, and she sounded amazing on it. 

Twenty minutes to solve a passage that difficult is GREAT!  If we had not pulled it apart, she would have cemented her bad habits by whacking away at the tonguing day after day until she played it badly in the performance too. 

We ALL do this sometimes - we assume we know what’s wrong and if we just work HARDER at it we can fix it.  This is so human, so typical.  But playing the oboe is a network of skills going on simultaneously.  Learning how to pull them apart and work independently on them is EVERYTHING.

This is what I do in my own practice, and this is 100% what I teach, too.  There is ALWAYS a way to play the oboe in a relaxed, effortless way, though sometimes it takes some detective work to identify the PROBLEM first.  Doesn't it sound like fun to work in this way?

I'm starting a second round of The Invincible Oboist NEXT WEEK, May 26.  If you think you might be interested in working with me for ten weeks to rediscover the EASE and JOY in your oboe playing, book a free call with me today and let's chat about it! 


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…

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

We took a vacation this summer.This is not news to anyone in my life - anyone who knows me or especially Steve on Facebook followed along with all of our pictures.We took our travel trailer out to Arizona - via St Louis, Tulsa, Amarillo, Roswell, Santa Fe - and then stayed a week in Clarksdale and Flagstaff and visited some ancient pueblo ruins, Sedona, Jerome, the Lowell Observatory, the Grand Canyon.We swam in swimming pools, lakes, and icy mountain streams.We hiked.Eventually we came home again, via Albuquerque, Amarillo, Tulsa, and St Louis. (our inventiveness had somewhat worn out).After a week at home we took another trip, and drove to Vermont via western NY and the Adirondack Park (stayed an extra day to hike a mountain), lived four days in East Franklin VT, and came home via Catskill and eastern Ohio.
This vacation felt different from all of our previous ones.In the 21 years we’ve been married, I can name only one - maybe two trips we ever took that were not For Work or For …