Please don’t just play the notes! Listen!

When playing the oboe don’t just play the notes and assume that because your fingers are hitting the right keys the right notes will be coming out. This, I’m afraid does not mean you can play the piece yet. There is so much more you need to think about but most importantly you must always listen.

Listening to what you play tells you so much. There are constant clues in the sound you are producing that tells you what you can work on to improve your playing. These are things you can do whatever standard you are, remember you don’t have to just wait for your lesson to be told what needs to be done to improve your playing you can listen to your playing and ask yourself lots of questions about what you hear. If you find it difficult at first to listen and analyse your own playing try using your phone or a computer tablet to record it. The sound quality might not be great but you will probably hear things you hadn’t noticed when playing that you can then go and work on to improve.

Questions you can ask yourself while playing.

Basic questions first.

Am I …

  • Playing the right notes?
  • Playing the right rhythms?
  • Playing the correct articulation? Am I tonguing and slurring where the music tells me to?
  • Am I putting in the dynamics?

You may be wondering why in the basic questions I haven’t mentioned tempo. Well when we practise we often play things at a slower tempo so you can really think about everything you need to. When you start improving you can be more aware of the tempo and work at getting the piece to the correct speed.  Practising slowly is something I will talk about in another blog about practise techniques but remember most people often don’t go as slowly as they need to for it to really work.

So, if in doubt, practise it even slower!

Once you feel that you are coping well with the above questions you can start expanding them. Try asking yourself these questions which can help you take your playing to the next level of not just playing what’s on the page but really starting to interpret the music.

Ask yourself…….

  • How is my tone? Is my sound controlled and even on all notes? Do I let longer notes bulge? Does the sound wobble? What do I need to do to try and improve any issues I have just pinpointed. (Hint – most of these are resolved with careful thought about breath control)
  • Now I’m playing the right notes am I getting to them neatly? Are there any extra note sounds (I call them blips) between the notes that are printed? How can I make the co-ordination problems get better. (Hint – don’t let your fingers go too far away from the oboe as this makes co-ordination much harder. Play things slowly so you can pinpoint which fingers aren’t quite co-ordinated)
  • How are my dynamics? Would they show up in a performance? (Hint – you need to do more contrast than you would expect as in performance they don’t show up. If they feel a bit over the top you are probably about right!)
  • Is my articulation really crisp and clear? Now I’ve got the tonguing and slurring right am I putting in all the smaller markings, e.g. Tenuto, Staccato. (Hint – listen out for lack of clarity between the tongued notes or between the end of a slur and then the tonguings and the other way round)
  • Musicality, am I phrasing the piece well? Have I worked out the character of the music and how I want to express it? Am I getting the music to tell a story.  Am I keeping the musical shaping going right to the end of a phrase or are they sounding clipped?  (Hint – these things will probably develop as you get to know the piece during practice but really think about how you want to phrase the music. Check you aren’t breathing in the middle of phrases as well.)

This sounds like a lot of questions but once you get used to asking yourself the basic ones you will soon find yourself thinking about the more in depth questions. . The number of students I have taught that forgot to listen to themselves is incredible so please don’t be one of them.

Remember why you wanted to play a musical instrument. Most of you probably started playing the oboe (or any other instrument) because you liked the sound it made so don’t stop listening just because you are now the one making the noise!

Please constantly listen and analyse the sounds you hear coming out of your oboe. There are so many hints within it telling you what you can do to improve things, don’t just wait for your teacher to tell you!

In my blogs I will always post a link to something worth listening to. Todays is not of a professional musician but of an 11 year old oboist in Korea that I found on You Tube. I was impressed by her quality of tone and technical control. Let me know what you all think!

One thought on “Please don’t just play the notes! Listen!

  1. Liz Nurthen

    Hi there ,
    Love your blog which just appeared in my FB feed 😄 . Great to read what you say to your own students every lesson !

    What an amazing young Korean oboist . Thanks for sharing .

    Liz

    Like

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