On occasion I’ve had parents or students ask about how they can improve more rapidly. It’s a tricky thing, this “How do I get better more quickly?!” question, because each student is so different. Some pick up an oboe and struggle greatly. Some pick it up and make a fairly decent sound right away. Some can hear note errors and some (most, I’ve found, have very little or no music in their homes) haven’t a clue when they play a wrong note even if it seems rather obvious to some of us. Some have what I call an internal metronome and some are unable to clap evenly.

We are all different. An obvious statement, I know, but not one that everyone realizes when it comes to music.

I was talking to a student yesterday about ability and music and whether it requires an innate talent or if it can be learned by anyone. Can anyone be a Mozart? I don’t believe so. Can anyone play oboe? I think the answer is yes, just as anyone can pick up a paintbrush and paint some sort of picture. My goal with students is to get them to be the best that each of them can be. I can’t compare. I won’t compare. But I will push, to be sure.

What can a student do to help with playing and listening skills?

  • Listen to music: don’t just play the oboe, but hear what others sound like. Attend live concerts. It’s a good thing to do.
  • Practice slowly and carefully. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked a student, “What did you hear?” and get the “I wasn’t listening!” reply.
  • Don’t accept mistakes. Stop. Find the error and work on just that area of the piece. Then link it back up to the rest.
  • No excuses! Don’t just say, “I always do that!” and allow that to be the reason you miss something. (Yes, I hear this a LOT.)

    … there is more … but I’m heading out the door and need to stop typing. :-)

    But is there a formula? I don’t think so. Certainly more practice can help, but one student might practice for thirty minutes and play quite well while another might practice for two hours a day and still struggle. I think the only formula I would give out would be “Practice to the best of your ability. Listen carefully. Correct mistakes. And be patient with yourself. Very, very patient.”