Top notes – you don’t have to pull faces to play them!

To all my lovely students,

When I teach you high notes why do you all pull odd faces while trying to play them and then look at me and tell me they

  • sound horrid
  • are out of tune
  • sound squeaky
  • Don’t work
  • etc etc!

Well, tightening up and pulling faces is the worst thing you can do. It stops the reed from being able to vibrate so you then end up blowing harder, then, if a sound does come out it is generally very sharp indeed.

Do try and relax, push the air faster through the oboe rather than just blow harder. The air needs to be very high speed and focused so imagine a laser beam of air being blown through it. Imagine the note is hovering above your head, yes that sounds a bit mad but when I say it to a student the note suddenly starts working.

Remember that in the end these notes have to sound just as beautiful as any other that you play so they blend in. Have a listen to this link.

Jonathan Kelly the principal oboe of the Berlin Philharmonic (who was also my teacher when I was at college) is playing Lutoslawski Double Concerto for oboe and harp. Not only is there a lot of high notes but some very dramatic multiphonics and some beautiful changes in tone colour. Also referencing back to my first post, this is another performance in which it is obvious that there is no holding back.