(cont.) Creating flexible and fulfilling oboe playing routines:

Hello and welcome to Oboe Brilliance Monday blogs which focus on the life long art of oboe playing and teaching.

This week's blog: Emotionally based Improvising,  is a continuation of what was started last week: Creating flexible and fulfilling oboe playing routines, in which emotional improvising is but one of many parts of the daily/weekly practice.  Please see last week's (marked by the image of the enamel art work angel playing the oboe) Oboe Brilliance blog.

The Oboe Brilliance method encourages both clever based and emotionally based improvising for solo or minimal duet playing. While clever based improvising, uses a predetermined structure "box" - or set of rules - for emotional expression - emotionally based improvising, uses no predetermined musical form other than, use excellent oboe playing technique and play what you decide to express emotionally with the oboe.

Once the emotional content is decided, then the oboist may decide specific techniques or structures in which to express the desired emotion - or not. Using excellent playing technique and expressing the emotion is non negotiable, but the how to, is negotiable.

For example, I might decide to play pick one of the following three choices with a student for "free style" or emotionally based improvising. I might give the following three choices:
1) feeling mysterious
2) feeling determined
3) feeling hopeful
The student then secretly selects a feeling to improvise and plays it.

Privately, within my own practice time, I may not wish to even name the emotion, or psychological state, and simply express what I feel at the time while playing- like a finger painting or doodle - with sound, reflecting the internal emotional state without the structure of a particular scale or meter. 

Many students, I've noticed,  fall into some kind of scale, meter, rhythm or pattern unconsciously. Students often have their own signature rhythmic pattern or tonal group of choice. I just secretly take note of what I hear, and stay aware of how what written music I give the student reflects or compliments that.

It's not too uncommon for emotional improvising to reflect the music the student is practicing or hearing more than the emotion intended for expression. When this is the case, it is then helpful to ask for emotions farther away from the emotional tone of what the student expresses and/or go back to clever improvising to create a new box of limitations that force the student to think outside their own limiting box. For example, a student might not realize that he is only improvising in duple meters, duple rhythms and staccato in a Major key for an emotionally based and free style improvisation to express sorrow. While the student might be thinking sorrow, it doesn't sound or feel like sorrow out of the oboe. In this instance, I might provide a clever box of E Phrygian in triple meter with a dynamic range of p - mf legato and listen for what happens emotionally.

It helps to listen carefully to a student's emotional improvising the hear the kind of music that might be more of a fit for the student. If a student gravitates towards Major scale, duple rhythms, then Mozart tends to be a good fit the student will enjoy and relate to playing. If the student is moody and chromatic, Schumann is perhaps a better fit.

If you are feeling blue, then you can choose to either embrace it and express it, or you can choose to create a balance and throw yourself in an opposite direction. Decide to play a different emotional and dive into the emotional pool of a different emotion.

On that note - emotional improvising - is revealing and an art form in and of itself. It can be used like a mirror to reflect your emotional truth, or like food, to provide emotional comfort, contrast or nutrients you crave. 

Wishing all a great week and happy oboe playing/teaching.
Kathryn Potter