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!

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!”


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.

13. January 2012 · Comments Off on Keep Those Fingers Close To The Keys! · Categories: Oboe, Technique

My students can tell you they hear that from me a lot. I know that some of my colleagues might not agree, but I say the less movement the better, especially when playing something fast.

Watch this man’s fingers … this is what I’m talkin’ about!

Do teachers out there talk to their students about what I call “glitches”? You know … the notes that appear between notes because students aren’t properly coordinating finger movements? I only ask because I’m sure hearing a lot of glitches from students I work with. I’m wondering if I’m overly picky. I know some students think I’m hounding them too much. But I find these glitches distracting, ugly, and very annoying.

Many students I get after they’ve already studied with someone else don’t hear them initially. It’s not because they aren’t there. It’s because they aren’t listening! Honestly!

I have students play scales, and after a scale I sometimes ask, “What did you hear?” I want to hear them point out their glitches if possible. I can’t tell you how many times I get a blank look. I then ask, “Were you even listening?” Would you believe they sometimes tell me they weren’t listening? Go figure!

Anyway, I do hope I’m not the only glitch grinch! I hate ’em. I will always hate ’em. So there.

So what do you do, dear students? Duh. Listen! See if you can hear a particular note between two notes. Say, for instance, you are playing B flat to B. If you hear an A first you are lifting your right index finger too quickly. If you hear a C, you are lifting your left middle finger too quickly. Sometimes it’s not quite so simple, but you can fix these glitches. Honestly!

30. October 2010 · Comments Off on Half Hole Roll · Categories: Technique

I’m so happy to see that Karen Birch Blundell has put up a video for the half hole rolling technique. As you might recall, I blogged earlier about the half hole, and avoiding the “half hole hop” no matter HOW you choose to maneuver from the key to the half hole. Here’s what Karen says:

I think if you were to look at my index finger you would see that it’s not completely on the key. Instead it’s sort of between the key and the little ledge to open up that half hole. This allows me to uncover and cover very easily. Give it a go!

(Karen, I tried to leave a comment at the YouTube page, but couldn’t for some reason. Weird. Here’s what I wrote:

Heh … when I arrived at your video Cynthia Watson’s popped up on the left! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqTD_8ZQez4

I’m a roller as well, and I promote that with my students. I find that the sliding technique tends to make the entire (or close to entire) hand move, while the rolling technique involves only the index finger. I was talking to a colleague about this and her response was, “Whatever works best!” I suppose that’s the truth of it, eh?)

Reading this:

Trying to get rid of my bad oboe habit which is lifting my finger when going from half covered to full.

Please oh please work on your half hole technique! Unless you are playing high C&#9389&, your half hole finger is attached to the key. I move my half hole finger by pivoting it. Not everyone agrees with this, and I’m open to discussion about that. No matter what, don’t lift that finger to get on or off of the half hole. So many of my students begin by rocking it downward but, when recovering the half hole key, life the finger up. I suggest you pretend your finger is actually glued to the key and all you have is “wiggle room”.

The “half hole hop” is, in my little opinion, a great big no-no. We pivot, but we don’t hop!

That being said, I did have one student who, when she arrived at college, was told she had to move from pivoting (or rocking) to sliding. I prefer my method of pivoting, but as I told her, when she was with her new teacher she had to follow his rules. Not only that, but the video below suggests sliding as well.

So as you can see, this instructor does a fairly large slide. I guess I should figure out how to do videos and show you what my finger does instead. My reason for pivoting rather than sliding is to avoid having my other fingers or my wrist move. When you slide, the entire hand is more involved. When you pivot, only the index finger is involved. At least for me.

But no matter what no half hole hop! Period.

There are some habits I have to get students to break when they come from other teachers. Maybe I’m crazy; maybe these things aren’t a big issue to some of you, but here are some of my pet peeves:

Order of F: regular fingering, then left, and finally forked. Sure, it makes sense to choose forked before left in some instances, but I think it’s best for students to get used to the left F first. Really.

I’m getting quite weary of students using the E flat key with forked F. Does this not annoy anyone else out there? If the oboe the student is using an oboe without the F resonance key I say just deal for now; if they continue with oboe they’ll most certainly get a better oboe soon, and breaking the E flat key habit is a problem. (I speak from my own experience!)

In addition, I really prefer that students learn to get off the bottom octave key when they move to the side. Sure, they don’t have to, but I can’t tell you how many students seem to think they have to hit both keys in order to play the notes above G#. This means that if they are moving from a lower note to a bottom octave key note, they add both octave keys; this involves unnecessary movement. Once a student understands just when they need the bottom octave and when they need the side then they can hang on to the bottom one if they are playing something so fast that it’s the best thing to do. (I don’t find the need to do this at all, actually.)

Finally … no sliding! Teach left E flat. Don’t let them slide. Pretty please? 🙂

Feel free to disagree with me … leave a comment and let me know! And add to these as well. I’d like to hear what pet peeves you have!

I have my students use a tuner. One thing about oboe; you can really manipulate pitch. So students need to check in on occasion to see just where they are. (Generally students are sharp, although I’ve had a few who were pretty darn flat.) I also have students do long tones on A-440 with a tuner. We have to tune an orchestra to an A, and I think getting that A firmly ingrained in one’s ear is a good thing.

But here’s the thing: some students use a tuner, but forget to look at the name of the note the tuner is hearing. They think they are flat because the tuner needle is a bit on the low side and they bite to get themselves higher, and actually wind up lipping the pitch up to an A sharp! So students, do be sure and verify that what you are playing is being heard as an A!

If pitch is wrong, it’s either your embouchure, your reed, or your oboe. So check those out. Yes? If it’s embouchure, you may be pulling the corners of your lips back rather than thinking “ooh” (or ü — “umlaut u” as I call it). You also might be taking in too much reed. (I don’t like to swallow the reed, although I know some who do. This is something you can play around with a bit to see what works for you. I also like a flat chin, not a “orange peel” chin.) If it’s your reed (crow it … is it crowing Cs?) and you can’t take anything off of it you’re sunk. Did you make the reed long enough (mine are generally 70mm)? Are you using 47 mm staples? If it’s your oboe, and it’s just ridiculously sharp, you’re probably sunk there too.

But I also want to stress something else about pitch. I suggest these policies:

  • When playing at home, be true to the reed. This means that you don’t alter your embouchure (if you know it is correct, so this is for more knowledgeable students, of course) to get that needle in the right position.
  • During lessons, continue to be true to the reed as well. But of course have a reed that is in tune! <
  • When playing in a group, be true to the pitch. You have to play with the proper pitch. This means you may have to manipulate your embouchure in order to keep the pitch correctly. Obviously this isn’t a great thing to do, so really … get reeds that are in tune! Get that embouchure figured out! (And oboe position might change things a bit too … play around with that. I prefer my oboe to be rather close to my knees when I’m sitting — and keep that head up! — it’s as if there are magnets in my knees and they are keeping the oboe somewhat close. I know other oboists don’t agree with that, so take that as you will.)

If you aren’t at a level to really know for sure if your reed is in tune, have your teacher check your reed. If you are a student oboist and don’t have a teacher, get a teacher. And make sure the teacher is an oboe player. Preferably one who will make you learn left F when you are learning your B flat major scale. 😉

I can’t tell you how many times I have to correct new students due to some misinformation. (A simple word for “teaching the wrong things”.)

So here, for you to read, are some suggestions from yours truly. And yes, I suspect some oboists might disagree with me. But this is my site!

When teaching the alternate fingering for F, please teach left F if the student has the left F on his or her oboe when the right hand fourth finger is occupied before of after the F. Really. Why teach forked F (and with the E flat key, doggone it!) and then make the student learn the left F later. It’s just silly.

Obviously in the instance a forked F is the only possibility please don’t have the student use an E flat on the forked F.

Please teach the students to the use of the half hole, bottom octave key and side octave key. I can’t tell you how many students arrive not knowing which is used when, and some students seem to think you can switch it all around at their whim.

Please don’t skip over pages of the Rubank or Gekeler. They are in order for a reason. Having a student begin in the middle of the books means some things may be missed.

Please explain to the students that the Rubank and Gekeler fingering charts aren’t perfect.

Please don’t let students write the name of the notes over every single note. What a silly thing to do. If you want to quiz them, do that separately from their lesson book.

I realize some teachers don’t mind if a student uses both octave keys when only the side octave key is necessary, but doesn’t it seem like an extra movement when it isn’t necessary. Ask you student to play octave As and watch as their thumb moves to that unnecessary bottom octave key. How silly is that?

If the notes aren’t slurred, don’t let them slur. If they notes are slurred, please have them slur. I can’t tell you how many students ignore articulation and make it up as they’d like.

Yeah, I’m just a bit frustrated sometimes. I hate having to break the news to students that they have learned things so incorrectly. They are frustrated too, then, and that’s no fun.

I know I’m not perfect. I’m guessing some teachers who take over my students and find errors in my teaching methods too. Please let me know when I do that. And if you disagree with any of what I wrote above, you can certainly tell me. But I still stick to my thoughts. 🙂