13. May 2009 · 12 comments · Categories: Ramble

My students know what I’m talkin’ about. I’m hoping a number of other readers do as well (if their teachers are as annoying as I!). But since I just ran across a YouTube video demonstrating the habit once more, I thought I’d write a little ditty about it. The video was of a student playing an etude for an orchestra audition. He played the very first note, paused, and then started the excerpt. WRONG!

Do. Not. Note Test.

One scary thing about oboe is that first note. (Yeah, we have other scary things too, but I’m just dealing with this for now.) We fear it won’t come out, or will sound bad. So what to do? Well, a number of students test that note first, and then go on with the scale or the piece. How bad an idea is that?

Pretty bad.

Your are training yourself to always want to do that.

You don’t often get to note test in the real world, when you are sitting on stage knowing your solo is about to come up. You might start wondering, “Will my first note sound?” or praying, “Dear God, please let my first note come out!” So at home, practice the solo (or etude or scale) over and over, NOT allowing note testing even if you flub that first note. Eventually you’ll learn exactly how it feels to nail it every time. It will help you to trust it. Play along with a recording sometimes, so that you aren’t on your time, but on someone else’s. Do something right before that might throw you off a little … like drop your music and quickly put it back up, just to see what something startling might do to your attack. And then, when you are on stage, tell yourself, “Of course the note will come out. I’ve done this over and over and I know how to make it work.” (Don’t tell yourself you’ll blow it; our oboes and reeds seem to be somewhat psychic and tend to fulfill our worst fears.)

Okay. That’s all. Over and out.

Both oboe and English horn cane is soaking, and it’s nearly time to shape the stuff, and wind some reeds! (Making reeds with one bad ear might be interesting. Talk about needing to trust myself, and rely on the past to make sure I don’t freak … sigh.)


  1. Ha. I still remember sitting in a practice room just starting (or trying to start) a note on my horn. Over and over – “pfwaah…dang!…phuhwah…grrr…taah…yeah!…pffblorp…crud!…”

    Like that. But ultimately it did help (probably more than anything else I ever practiced – thanks Dave Sprung).

    Unfortunately, that experience doesn’t translate as directly as I’d like to oboe due to the reeds, dagnabbit. That’s why I try use at least three different reeds every time I practice (plus I figure they’ll last longer – but it’s so tempting to use the “good” reed for the entire time…).

  2. Good advice, Patty. Thanks!

  3. But gee, Patty, I remember a (bassoon) sub who did exactly that between movements AT A CONCERT no less. Just before a very pp beginning of a movement. And not just a note…but several. The person’s excuse was that they’d just switched reeds and “had to try it out.”

    I’m still amazed someone would think that was OK, onstage, at a performance.

  4. WOW! I don’t recall that incident. Was i there? Did I block it out? Did I actually forget? (Me? Have memory issues?!)

    I’m pretty darn stunned.

  5. sometimes they tell you at auditions that you are welcome to play a few notes before you start. in which case i like to play notes that get the instrument resonating, rather than the first note i will start with.

  6. Gabrielle, I do think auditonees should get to check out the acoustics of a place, so playing a few notes is almost always expected … or at least has been when I’ve been at auditions.

  7. Well heck, the tympanist gets away with it, right? 🙂

  8. And I have to admit, Tim, that I can hear the tympanist checking the notes sometimes and it really drives me nuts! I have wondered if the audience can hear it, but I’ve never asked anyone. They even check pitches while something rather soft is being played. I guess they have to …?

  9. I hate when the students do that!!! And the band directors here tell them to. They will play the note, then the scale. And usually it is the first note of the scale that doesn’t come out because the kid is relaxed since the test note worked.

    I always tell them that is performance they do not have that option and need to learn to trust thatemselves.

  10. Wow … band directors are telling students to do that! Scary.

  11. Peter Cooper warned me about note testing in auditions, even when you’re encouraged to “play a few notes”. He told me about an obnoxious oboist who loudly played a two-octave scale. The tone was “ugly and loud” and that eliminated them before they even played their excerpts.

    And that brings me to tuning on-stage before a recital: quietly, people! Nobody wants to hear a blaring A and several repeated notes on the piano for the oboist to constantly try matching that A; it takes away from the performance and puts the audience ill-at-ease.

  12. It’s good to remember, Jillian, that when someone hears the little warm up you are being judged. (I do recall hearing some pretty awful warming up at an audition, once.)