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.”

    One More Thing
    Attend lessons regularly! I can’t tell you how many fall behind because they attend maybe once or twice a month. Truly!

  • 4 Comments

    1. Hi, I take instrument lessons twice a month (semi-beginner). I’m curious why you say that students who do so will fall behind? Is it because they practice less without the ‘motivation’ of an upcoming lesson? And do you observe this in any particular sort of student (new players/young students only/ etc.)?

    2. Hi there! Thanks for commenting.

      This is generally speaking, of course, and you might be different, but I’ve observed that most who come every other week still get the same amount of work done as those who come every week, so they get through books nearly twice as slow. I can only listen to so much in one lesson’s time!

      That being said, perhaps you work very hard and are progressing more rapidly.

      The other issue I encounter is that it takes longer to develop a comfortable working relationship with the student, as we meet only twice a month. I never feel as if I really know most of those students as well as I know the every week students.

    3. Thanks, that made me rethink a lot of things! I naturally assumed that I would make twice the progress in 2 weeks but I do think it helps to have someone reinforce basic concepts every week- I will discuss this with my teacher.

      Great site by the way! Especially enjoy your posts about students and teaching since it’s a rare perspective (there are many more music students than teachers).

    4. Thanks you, El! I need to get back to writing more about teaching … I’ve been negligent recently (busy with so many things!). I will try to do that more frequently. If you have anything you’d like me to write about do let me know!

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