Create flexible and fulfilling oboe playing routines

Dear Oboists, Hello and welcome to Oboe Brilliance Monday blogs, devoted to the art of JOYFUL, life long oboe playing fulfillment.

The perfect playing routine is one that is flexible, so it works with your (or your student's) changing moods, schedules and technical playing needs/desires.

The Oboe Brilliance,  balanced daily diet of oboe practice consists of:

  1. long tones and articulation work
  2. clever improvising
  3. scale/mode/interval work (with deep focus on intelligent listening/awareness)
  4. sight reading (visit the published works page to treat yourself/students to some new music)
  5. emotional improvising
  6. repertoire
  7. etudes 

General advice:

1) Although not every practice session will contain all of the above, every practice session should contain and start out with at least some kind of clever articulation and long tone warm up, however short, but the longer the better!
2) Incorporate some emotionally based improvising into your daily playing. (however short and fleeting) I strongly encourage this before and after working with written music.

The reasons for this are: 1) It helps you practice being centered in your emotional body. It helps you practice knowing and expressing your musical voice and thereby helps you be a more emotionally expressive musician. 2) It GREATLY enhances your ability to appreciate, enjoy and be sensitive to the music of composers of all genres.

3) Be patient and loving with yourself.  The Oboe Brilliance philosophy is:  "The ultimate purpose of art is to increase the ability to love." So, remember to let oboe playing enhance and enrich your life and the life of others. If you are at war with yourself or in competition with others with the oboe, STOP, take a step back and rethink your priorities and approach. Anything less than the love of life and love of music in a practice session is a big waste of precious time. If being an oboist doesn't make you a more loving person, then you are doing something wrong and it's time to reassess your priorities. Mozart said: "There is no such thing as great art, only great love."

Specific advice:

Long tones:

5 - 10 highly focused minutes of long tone work per 30 minutes of oboe playing time is advised. Mind you that a proper and clever long tone workout includes some articulation work, dynamic work, and interval work. It can even include meditative and emotional improvising work. Intensity of long tone work out depends on overall skill level of playing. Remember that long tones can and should be emotional. In fact, they can be DEEPLY emotional. ( I believe a great oboist can give an A, to tune an orchestra that isn't just in tune, but also packed with heart melting, calling all souls to gather dripping the alpha wolf calling the pack!


Clever improvising:  

Simply put, clever improvising combines emotional expression with technical guidelines. The technical guidelines are determined by the oboist or teacher and can change as needed.

So for example select:

  • a staccato style of a specific era to practice in your improvising: Baroque Bounce/Clean Classical/Short Dry 20th century...etc.
  • Select of form to improvise in such as ABA form/ Rondo form...etc.
  • Select a specific scale, or mode to improvise - perhaps the scale your first etude or repertoire piece is written in to get or mind in gear...
  • Select certain internals to be sure to incorporate. For example emphasize P5s, and P8s, or m3s, or M7s
  • Select a certain meter and mode...

    Just make your "box" how ever big, small, detailed or general and PLAY!


MEMORIZE: It's by far best to eventually memorize all scales: Chromatic, Major, Minor, and Modal, ascending and descending - from the bottom to the top of the oboe. Once all these scales are memorized, they need to be practiced to be kept up and polished. This will keep anyone occupied. 

SLOW: The fastest way to learn scales is slowly and thoughtfully. The mind and fingers are at first like wet cement and so it makes all the difference to practice slowly, correctly and thoughtfully from the beginning.

(Another reason why all instrumental music students need great teachers from day one - not just double reed players!!!!!!!)

EMOTIONAL PALETTES OF COLOR: I like to think of scales as a specific palette of color. In addition to getting the scale committed to finger memory, it helps to develop an emotional connection with each and every scale. D Dorian for example, feels differently than D Major. A Dorian feels different than D Dorian and so on....  This is where emotional improvising in conjunction with tonal improvising is so important and helpful.

Sight Reading: When done right, sight reading is fun and refreshing!

The ideal level of music for sight reading is to be able to play a line of music, (when played carefully/slowly and dropping things like embellishments and dynamics) is to make an average of about 3 mistakes. Sight reading material should be easy music below the present technical level of accomplishment. 

The book I composed "Illuminations" is good for sight reading for oboists above advanced beginner and good for beginners after 6 months to study. Advanced intermediate students can enjoy sight reading is the duet book "Secrets of Ravens" and beyond that selections from the solo book of flower portraits, "Arc en Ceil" . 

In true sight reading, the musician doesn't know the piece at all. To develop sight reading skill at first, it's helpful to play well known music.

Ideally sight reading is a part of weekly oboe practice, if not daily.

For my oboe students, in addition to composing for them, I've pillaged the recorder, trumpet and flute repertoires. Celtic music and violin music is another source to provide good sight reading material.

I love to use sight reading as a type of "snack food"!

All right dear ones - that's enough for now. To be continued next week!

Kathryn Potter
P.S. (International private and group SKYPE oboe lessons available to oboists who wish to study my music and teaching methods.)