Asking my teacher how he was producing the sound I was striving so hard to emulate and having him respond, “I don’t KNOW! It should just sound like THIS!” led me to eventually figure out (1) that he didn’t like being asked to overanalyze his technique and (2) that he wanted me to figure things out on my own through trial-and-error and by using my ears.

-Susan Laney Spector

I’ve always enjoyed Susan’s posts … check this one out. She’s also a baseball fan (A Mets fan, to be exact; I’ll let it slide since she DOES live on that end of the country), and she’s an oboist in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. (Not too shabby, eh?!)

I think I’ve mentioned this before: I had a student come to me a while back who really wanted me to spell out how to play a rather famous solo from a ballet work. She didn’t want me to just help her play it … she wanted to be told exactly what to do. I don’t teach that way. I know that expression comes easily for me, and that it doesn’t work that way for some, but to give her such an exact way of playing didn’t work with the way I teach. She quit after two lessons. I felt a bit bad about it, but maybe she has found a teacher out there who could give her what she wanted. I do hope so!


  1. Teachers can not teach you and tell you everything. They give you suggestions, but you learn things from yourself and your own experiences.

  2. Patty,

    Thank you for your compliments on my post and my blog.

    I was fearful that the post was already quite long, and thus–especially because the majority of those reading it would be baseball enthusiasts and not musicians–I chose not to elaborate on the message you cited even though I had thought about doing so.

    But since you have mentioned it and now blogged about it, I will add my thoughts here for you and your readers:

    I was extremely GRATEFUL that Woodhams insisted I figure out many things about music-making and oboe-playing on my own.

    I had come to him having studied with a teacher who–at least at that time and with me–instructed me in a very literal, analytical manner–quite the opposite approach. However, as an undergraduate student not well-skilled in reedmaking and not having had a lot of orchestral experience, I definitely benefitted from her approach.

    It was exactly what I needed at that particular time in my development as a student.

    Having then been provided a strong foundation of the technical aspects of playing and reedmaking–along with, yes, help in phrasing, interpretation, etc., as well–I really think that I was ready (and that Woodhams probably thought so as well)for a different approach: one that would challenge me to be more of a a participant in my own education instead of having everything spelled out to me.

    In case it was not clear in my post, I never felt that Woodhams’ reluctance to put into words the technical specifications behind the timbre he was producing, for example, was NOT a cop-out on his part.

    My interpretation then and now, looking back on those days, is rather that it was a cautionary admonition that I become my own critic, detective, and scholar in my quest to become a professional oboist.

    While he never said these words, per se, I am quite certain that his intent was to urge me to become independent and to get used to solving problems myself.

    For clarification, I also do not know if he teaches ALL students in this way. I could easily imagine a first-year student at Curtis, for example, needing (and receiving) more specific instructions, at least initially. I don’t know if that is his approach, but it would make sense to me.

    Regardless, Patty, you should not feel bad about having lost a student due to your insistence on her summoning her own creative “juices”. I think the best teachers instruct but also serve as “guide”, don’t you?

  3. Thanks for this, Susan! I really appreciate your words … and I certainly didn’t think you implied Woodhams copped out by not giving you a play-by-play of how to do everything.

    I think it *does* depend on the student too, of course. We might “feed” some students more, and others not, as we see how students learn and what they need from us. I am trying not to feel bad about that one student, but I wish I could have offered up something more helpful. She definitely had a lot of talent, but was a rather unexpressive person, from what I could tell, and that was what was the problem with the playing as well. She wanted the magic key to play expressively. Perhaps I could have offered more. I’m not really sure!

    I LOVE reading your blog … both the baseball and the music parts! And they sometimes seem so much alike, you know? (Although my salary isn’t anywhere near what they are getting! Go figure!) 😉

  4. Oops!

    I, of course, meant to say, “I never felt that Woodhams’ reluctance to put into words…WAS a cop-out…”

  5. Heh … I didn’t even notice! I read it as you intended. Funny how that goes.

    Now if only people would hear my reeds as I INTEND them to be! 😉

  6. Hi, Patty and Susan –

    Great thread! It points up the concept that music, as all the arts are, is an apprentice trade.

    Our students are given what we think they need at the moment to get to the next (as we see it) level, so on. That also means that WE, as teachers, have to ‘get it’ as well.

    The good teachers are those that do.

    If the student doesn’t grasp the necessary concepts to move on, no cookbook remedy will work.

    Susan, I really enjoyed your comments. Particularly the insight that Woodhams felt that you needed to be your own critic.

    That may be the highest compliment a teacher can give you…

    – Bob Hubbard