06. March 2009 · 6 comments · Categories: Oboe, Ramble

When I get students who had their first lessons with a non-oboe-playing band director or someone who knows music but doesn’t play oboe I know we are in for a bit of unlearning. So many beginning books are old and missing information about the left F. Some show an oboist’s embouchure and it’s really not correct. And some books show reeds that are the old style, before the long “W” scrape took over our world. (Yes, I know there are different long scrapes too, but I won’t go there right now and, to be honest, I just make reeds that I pray work and I don’t think much about the different styles. Heck, I don’t think much! 😉

If you want to learn oboe, you need an oboe teacher!

If you don’t have an oboe playing oboe teacher how can the teacher play your instrument to see if it’s working properly? How can the teacher do anything with your reeds if they need adjusting? Huh? Huh?

You don’t need someone who plays clarinet which is also a reed instrument so it should be okay. You don’t need someone who reads music and can teach you notes. You don’t need someone who played oboe years ago in high school and probably remembers most everything. Sort of. You need an oboe teacher who plays oboe!

Stay tuned for today’s 8:30 TQOD. And no, I didn’t scream when I read it. Merely sighed and wrote this blog entry.


  1. Hmmm. I have to say that I was taught bassoon mainly by an ex-trombone player in high school (my sainted band teacher, who taught ALL the students in band private lessons weekly). I did have lessons a few times from a bassoon student at SJSC (this was when dinosaurs roamed the earth) who had gone to my high school and made occasional visits back to town; she did teach me some reed-making skills, but I have to say there wasn’t anything else I remember learning from her that I didn’t get from “Mr. C” as well or better.

    Of course, you must realize that this was an exceptional ex-trombone player, given an award by the state of California for his work with his students; his life was teaching, and he was diligent in finding out what the correct fingerings were for all instruments, knowing about specifics of all the instruments, attending clinics, etc., etc. This is not to say that I didn’t still have things to learn when I got to college and studied with a bassoonist, but I did not have anything to UNlearn. Not one single thing. Oddly enough, he had more outstanding woodwind students than brass students (go figure!).

    I’m not saying it’s not better to have lessons from someone who is a good player of your instrument (it is, as long as they can teach as well as play!); just that it is possible for someone who is a truly dedicated and committed teacher who does not play the instrument to do a credible job of teaching it, while the student is in the earlier stages of learning. I’m sure those types are quite rare, however; I was lucky enough to have one in my life.

    RIP, Mr. C. I can never thank you enough.

  2. Well, my own experience switching from trumpet to horn while staying with my trumpet teacher was rather the opposite. I didn’t actually get significantly better on horn until starting lessons in college (and I did have to unlearn/relearn things).

    That’s why I made a point of finding an oboe teacher before I even started looking for an instrument to rent. 🙂

  3. joethemusician

    I love your post. I love your post so much I want to copy and paste it all over the world. As a woodwind doubler I face a lot of prejudice. Mostly from people who say “oh i play everything and teach it all.” 4 months later little johnny is playing oboe on a short scrape reed and knows only the Bb scale. I have worked so hard to play oboe every day so that I can actually teach it well! I think it is so important to study with someone who actively plays your instrument. I really only take oboe/sax/clarinet students since those are what i play everyday anyway. I wish more people lived by this rule. It would make life easier for the kiddies.

  4. I read the TQOD first and my eyes nearly popped out of my head. nononononononononononono, NO! I’ve said this before, but there’s a bassoonist in my area who teaches a LOT of oboe students as well (he teaches at the local music store, so many just get directed there and never look farther *sigh*) It is always so easy to tell who those students are by listening. I’ve talked to a couple of them about it too, but the really like the guy. Oh well…

  5. I think the problem is the level of committment to excellence – teachers who don’t play the instrument have to really do their homework and know about the instrument they’re teaching. It seems so many teach other instruments (or even their own) just to make money – and don’t really care how good a job they’re doing, or to make the extra effort to learn the the instrument in depth. I was so lucky to start out with someone for whom this was really a calling, not a job; I’d have to say that none of my later professional bassoon teachers reached that level of committment to teaching (playing, yes; teaching, no), as fine as they were and as much as I learned from them. I don’t know if this is a sign of the times (“back in my day music teachers cared about teaching WELL, sonny”) or not. But I think it was more common in those days to get pretty good to excellent teaching from a “generalist” at the beginning and intermediate levels (otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to waltz straight from a small-town high school band background into a university with a first-class music dept at the freshman level and get the top seats in all the performing groups ahead of those who’d been studying for many more years… with bassoonists. This happened with other instrumentalists from my high schoool as well.).

    I’d also say that I’ve had some fine coaching from players of other instruments at the advanced level – among them Jimmy Matheson, now retired principal oboist of SF Opera. Again, he is someone committed to excellence in teaching and able to apply what he knew (and what he’d observed of other instruments) to other instruments. Sometimes at that level I think it can be valuable to get a perspective from a player of another instrument, who may pick up on things other than what a player of your own instrument might focus on.

    Patty’s point (it’s best to take lessons from a player of your instrument) is true, and I hope I don’t sound like I’m disputing it. It is possible, just not common, to get good beginning/intermediate teaching from non-players, but ONLY if they are truly dedicated to excellence in teaching. For that matter, a player of your instrument may not be that dedicated (or skilled in imparting knowledge)…but you’ll generally learn faster and better from a well-trained player of your instrument.

  6. I didn’t think you were trying to argue, dk. I just figured you had a different story, and I was happy to read it.

    Truth be told, my high school band director taught me a lot. He introduced us to a bunch of Italian opera music (he was Italian and we played transcriptions. I’m sure I’d hate them now, but at the time I was happy to play them!). He gave every student lessons. Mine were private since I was the only oboe. While he couldn’t teach me about left F or some other issues, he DID teach me about pitch, rhythm and, mostly expression. I’m grateful for that. I’m not grateful for the way he made the girls cry and the way he treated everyone but the teacher’s pet — me! — although at the time I didn’t see it that way. His treatment of others, though, did prepare me for another fiery conductor I worked under for years! 🙂

    And of course we all know the best players aren’t necessarily the best teachers. I’ve seen how some “work” (or don’t) when it comes to teaching.