Brava to Bernice Lee for doing both parts of the Ferling! It’s so clever how she looks as if she is looking at the “other” player (herself) when of course no one would be there in real time. I’m not sure how she made that image at the end!

Ferling – Duo Concertante for 2 Oboes, Op. 13 (Rondo)

Duets are something I really miss while teaching online. I’ve suggested to students that they record one part and play along with that, but it’s not like the two of us playing together (I nearly always ended a lesson with a duet). I’m starting to ponder how to teach here. The other day I walked by a house when I saw a guitar student get out of her car, carrying her guitar, a chair, and a stand. I thought, “Oh dear … NO MASK? And she has a lesson?!” Well, as it turned out, she set up on the porch at the house. The teacher was inside the house, with the door opened (but she had a screen door closed). Hm. Perhaps I can do something like that if students are up for it. I’m still not willing to handle instruments or reeds, but at least we could play duets!

08. June 2020 · 2 comments · Categories: Teaching

I have now taught my students online for a few months. There are positives and negatives to online teaching, but it is definitely better than no lessons at all!

The negatives are obvious: I am not in the same room with students. I can’t adjust their reeds and I can’t fix their oboes. I can’t see everything clearly sometimes, and oh the sound … it can be awful! But not always. Sometimes the sound is just fine. It depends upon the student’s setup and I suspect it also depends upon the time of day (if too many people are online I think it glitches more). Teaching online takes me more time for preparation, and I have learned that I must have 15 minutes between each student so I can send the latest student the assignment sheet, charge my AirPods, get up, move around, and just regroup. Honestly, online teaching is incredibly taxing, and if I felt it was fair I’d actually charge more for them. But I won’t.

The positives? Well, first of all, I get to see my students! I miss them when I don’t get to teach them. I think it encourages the students to continue to practice. (Some, in fact, are practicing more than usual!) Some seem more comfortable, and I wonder if being home just makes them relax a bit. One student even managed to teach himself to make reeds!

I have yet to have any new students ask for lessons. I have decided I’d be willing to try and teach new students if they’ve already been playing. I am not able to take beginners, as it is so very important to try their oboes and we really need to be “hands on” for their starting lessons.

Interested in studying with me? Need oboe lessons? Feel free to leave a comment here with your contact info, or email me.

While I am so very thankful all but one of my students is continuing with lessons during this stressful time, I am finding teaching via Facetime or Google Hangout to be so much more tiring that having students here in my studio. I have put breaks between each student (from 5 minutes to my preferred 15) just so I can breathe, walk a bit, and get books ready for the next student. Even with that break I am utterly exhausted after only three students. I don’t know how colleagues who do this all day deal with it. They sure have my admiration!

If I could, I would charge more for online lessons, due to how grueling they are. But of course I won’t: my students have stuck with me and I can’t punish them by making the fee higher, despite it being more work for me. (And I’ve lost thousands due to symphony and opera being over for now.)

So it goes … and I’m hoping I’ll adjust and things will get easier as time goes by, because I think we are going to be doing this much longer than we all hope.

28. November 2018 · Comments Off on Sparkwork! · Categories: Teaching

I played classical music in my early training, but I was a bad, undisciplined student, so I would dread my teacher coming over. He gave me “Alley Cat,” which had syncopation with it, and finally I was like, “I’m going to sit here and play until I know how to do that.” He gave me a couple of other things, “Deep Purple,” by Peter De Rose, and “Stairway to the Stars,” by Matty Malneck and Frank Signorelli, and those chords did something to me.

—Jeff Goldblum

I read it here.

This quote reminds me that finding something to trigger a student’s interest is so important. Feeding them the music I like isn’t necessarily the ticket. Yes, they need to learn standard oboe repertoire, but if I can find something that piques their interest that may well get them to practice more and, eventually, move to things I think are vital for an oboist’s repertoire list.

I had one student who was quite accomplished but didn’t seem to have a spark I wished he could have. One day I pulled out some Scott Joplin arranged for two oboes. BAM! That did it. We pulled those out frequently. He could sight-read them quite well (he said, “I don’t count it so much as I feel the rhythms”), and doing those duets became quite a joy for both of us.

I’m writing this as much for myself as for others: recently a few of my students aren’t practicing. Perhaps I need to find a “sparkwork” for them.

21. October 2018 · Comments Off on A Good Reminder for All Instructors … · Categories: Read Online, Teaching

With many thanks to Bret Pimentel:

I have lots on things on my list for you today: we should double-check your rhythms on that etude, review those melodic minor scales that were giving you trouble last week, and discuss some finer points of vibrato.

But something about your sunken eyes when I met you at the door, the way you slouched into the room, the slept-in fashion statement, says that today you are Struggling. Not because you are lazy or undedicated. But because college life is fraught with deadlines for research papers and rent payments, and scheduled to the brim with marching band rehearsals and late shifts waiting tables, and fueled by store-brand Pop Tarts and never enough sleep.

Do read the whole thing (link above). This applies not only to Bret’s college students, but to all of our students. I have middle school students who are overly stressed. I have high school students who are so on edge it hurts my heart. All are more important than their oboes!

24. June 2017 · Comments Off on The Energy It Takes · Categories: A Musician's LIfe, Teaching

We “play” our instruments. But playing is just so very wrong … because, believe me, it is hard work. When I’m done with a performance I’m beat. The next day I’m often in recovery mode. Oh the energy it takes!

And then there’s teaching.

Teaching, like playing, takes a ton of energy. The focus is sometimes so very difficult. I have to remove all the clutter of current events — be the events distant or in my own home — and focus on the one student who is playing his or her best (I hope) for the lesson. I have to listen so very carefully. And I have to attempt to get each student to learn to listen as well. That can be tricky.

“What did you hear?”

The first time I ask a student that question I get a befuddled look. Sometimes I think the student has decided I’m an idiot! “Oboe!” might be her response. Or “Notes!” might come from him. Of course what I really am asking is “What did you hear that you would like to do better next time?”

I think I’ll put it that way this next week and see what my students come up with.

As I have told so many of them, one thing about what we do is that it can always be better. It’s the fun and the curse of this profession, I suppose. No room for boredom. But sometimes rather frustrating!

Today I had seven students. I’m now depleted of energy, but my weekend has begun and I don’t see another student until Tuesday. Time to relax, recuperate, and look forward to the next week of teaching.

03. December 2016 · Comments Off on Just a little thought … or maybe two … · Categories: Teaching, Technique

When you practice are you using the same posture that you use when you are in rehearsals or concerts? Is your head in the same position? How about the angle of the oboe and reed? I’ve noticed that so many of my students have their heads down further than they should be during the start of their lessons, when they are doing long tones and scales. They are looking down much of the time. When I ask if that’s how they sit and hold their heads when they are in rehearsals and concerts they say no. Reeds react differently if we have a different angle. Try to practice with a consistent angle, and use the one you use when at orchestra or band rehearsal.

Oh, and “I always do that!” is not permission to “always do that.” As I tell my students, a conductor would not respond well to me if I made a mistake and said, “I always do that!” as if that somehow makes it acceptable or at least expected. Don’t give yourselves permission to “always do that.” Fix it!

25. June 2016 · Comments Off on “In the Fingers!” · Categories: Teaching

I was talking to a student yesterday about knowing something so well that, should nerves kick in, my fingers just take over and play the notes. Sometimes it catches me by surprise, to be honest. It seems almost as if they magically do the job.

It’s not really magic. It’s practice. Careful, lengthy practice.

It’s work.

Students frequently accept mistakes. They make the same ones over and over. I hear the “I always do that!”, as if that makes it okay. Or at least accepted. Or expected.

Don’t accept. Don’t expect. It’s not okay.

FIX.

Slow, methodical, careful practice is a good thing. Get passages in your fingers. Nerves kick in and you just don’t want to fall apart. Like dominoes. One goes down, they frequently ALL go down. If you get something in your fingers incredibly well they carry through. It might surprise you, but it’s true!

I grow weary of the four words, “I always do that!” They nearly always occur as a student’s excuse for making a mistake. It’s as though if he or she always does that there’s no reason to fix it. It’s “just the way it is”, after all, and I suppose I’m just supposed to look the other way.

Can you imagine if we used those four words in other areas of our lives?

Try telling a police officer who pulls you over for speeding, “I always do that!” I suspect you’ll still get a ticket.

How about getting a wrong answer on a math problem and telling the teacher, “I always do that!” You’ll still be graded accordingly.

So why is “I always do that!” okay to tell a music teacher? Try something new …

First, don’t accept the “I always do that” excuse. Attempt to fix the problem. Slow down. I really mean that! S L O W D O W N !!!

Get it?

If you make a mistake, stop and think about WHY you are making the mistake. Sometimes it helps to say something out loud. I’ve been known to say, “Don’t play an A flat there!”

Really.

Sometimes I have to tell myself what I’m doing wrong in order to really fix the issue. Perhaps a more positive approach would be to yell out “A NATURAL!” That would work too.

Whittle things down to a manageable and FIXABLE portion of music. If you “always do that!” in measure 14, stop working from measure 1. Start with ONLY measure 14. Fix the issue. (SLOW DOWN! Remember?) Take it as slowly as you need to to play it perfectly. Yes, it might be miserably slow, but if you don’t fix the problem it will remain a problem, yes? After you find the tempo that allows perfection, play it five times IN A ROW perfectly. Then move the metronome up a notch or two. Do the five times in a row thing perfectly again. Move the metronome up a few more notches. Repeat. Do this for a while.

But you aren’t done yet!

You might have fixed measure 14, but you’ve not linked it up to measures 13 and 15, have you? So do that next. You might have to slow down again. Use your metronome. The five times in a row rule applies again. You get the idea. After that are you finished? Nope! It’s time to link those three measures up to their next door neighbors! And yes, that five times in a row rule applies yet again.

Trust me, if you do this diligently the “I always do that!” line can disappear from your vocabulary.

Accuracy matters. Greatly. Don’t settle for less.

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!