Saturday, July 14, 2012

Lessons from Young Oboists

Working with the Junior Band, I've gotten the opportunity to observe several young oboists, all of whom have been playing for a year or less. While their playing is at a higher level than I expected, there are three bad habits that I noticed right away:

1) Not pushing the reed in all the way. Well-meaning band directors will often tell students to "push in" or "push out" when tuning individuals. Young oboists, upon hearing this, will sometimes pull the reed out of the oboe, not realizing that pitch is actually changed with the embouchure and amount of reed in the mouth, rather than the amount of reed in the instrument itself. The staple (or tube) of an oboe reed is an extension of the instrument itself, and pulling it out affects the sound of the instrument.

2) Not soaking the reed. Soaking a reed in water, rather than spit, is very important. First of all, soaking the reed in water allows it to become equally wet on the inside and outside of the reed, which will make the reed more consistent, require less soaking as the rehearsal goes on, and even improve the reed's response and opening. Secondly, soaking the reed in water actually extends its life. Our saliva breaks down the molecules in a reed and slowly kills it over time. Soaking a reed in spit speeds up this process.

3) Leaving the reed on the oboe all the time. When there is a break in rehearsal, directors will tell students to set their instruments on their chair. Young oboists do so, not thinking of the danger in which they are placing their reeds. It may take an accident leading to the death of a reed for young oboists to realize the need to protect their reeds. During breaks, the reed should always be removed from the oboe and placed either in the student's reed case or on the student's stand.

I think the most interesting thing about these observations is that none of them involve how these students actually play the oboe. These are minor bad habits that are easily fixed once students are aware of them. Raise awareness!

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