Practice Routines

I recently posted a thread on Reddit’s Oboe section regarding practice routines, and there were many great comments.  This one I liked so much, however, that I wanted to share it:

Start a practice journal. Practice by achieving goals, not by counting how much time you put into practice. So that way, you are focusing on quality over quantity.

So every week, I start writing down what I want to achieve every day during my practice session. Or you can also just list weekly practice goals if you don’t want to write it down every day.

For example, I’m working on an audition in about 2 weeks just for a summer camp. This is what I have written down in my practice journal for today.

Monday:

  • 2 octave Bb major at quarter = 100, work on getting low notes to speak clearly
  • 2 octave F major at quarter = 100, work on high note transitions and intonation
  • Full chromatic (Bb3-G6) at quarter = 100, high note transition and check intonation with tuner
  • Ferling 3, measure 14-16 and 29-31 – work on smooth, effortless slur up to high F
  • Mozart, measure 32+83, make it technically perfect and clean; measure 32-49, check for evenness of tempo; measure 93-95 at quarter = 105.

By defining what you really want to achieve, you avoid wasting time and you make your practice session much more efficient. Before I started doing this, I would just goof around during practice and just play what I already know.

This routine usually takes me about 1-2 hours a day depending on how difficult the goals are. You don’t have to achieve all the goals in one session either. I like to spread my sessions out into 20-30 minute blocks throughout the day. It allows me to be more focused on just one goal during each session.

During the school year I tend to block out of my practice session in this order

  • Warm up (long tones and a scales)
  • New oboe skills (circular breathing, double/triple tonguing, multiphonics, high notes, alternate fingerings, etc)
  • Etude (Barret or Ferling usually)
  • Orchestral excerpts or audition music
  • Solo in progress
  • Large ensemble or chamber music

I do reedmaking and adjustments during my break, never in the middle of a practice session unless it’s a minor adjustment.

Which is precisely what I’ve started to do.  I bought a Top-down Planner, which has monthly and weekly breakouts, and try to plan out my practice routines for the week.

More Music…

Today, I received an email containing two pieces that I need to prepare for Oboe Camp I’m attending at Wright State in July.  One is Study No. 11, which can be found in “48 Studies for Oboe, Op.31,” by Franz Wilhelm Ferling.  The second is an Solo Excerpt from a Violin Concerto composed by Johannes Brahms.  I honestly wouldn’t have thought a year ago that I’d be playing pieces of music written by the likes of Brahms, Dvorak, or Copeland.  It’s pretty cool actually, and I am truly finding happiness in my instrumental progression.  I’ve got a long way to go, but I think I’m making some good progress.

Where I started off in Rubank’s Elementary Method, I’m now using “40 Rhythmical Studies” by Grover Yaus, and have started greater work in Albert Andraud’s “Practical and Progressive Oboe Method.”  Rhythm still continues to be my weakness, and frankly I hate the metronome and hence do not work with it as I should be doing.  I also need to work technically and increase the speed with which I play passages, especially eighth notes… so a continual work in progress as it goes.  But.. it’s been a year about about three months since I first picked up an oboe.

Inn other music notes, I am also working on Arcangelo Corelli’s “Sarabande,” while searching for a counterpoint piece to play for my audition in the fall.  That and my scale work, today being Ab Major…. yes, four flats… fun.  So it’s not that I am suffering for things to play.

Oboe Method Books

I thought I might share the method books that I am using for my learning process.  Most are I am assuming pretty well-known:

Rubank Elementary Oboe Method by Hovey – the first book I started with, teaches the basics…

Rubank Intermediate Oboe Method by Skornicka and Koebner – currently using…

Foundations for Superior Performance: Warm-ups and Technique for Band by Williams and King…

Studies and Melodious Etudes for Oboe, Level I by Edlefsen – a really great book full of
some really fun and challenging stuff to play.  One of my favorites…

Pares Scales for Oboe by Pares…  broken down by scale, a good practice method book…

40 Rhythmical Studies for Oboe by Yaus – just starting to use….

One thing that I’ve begun to do is to create a compendium of methodology – I purchased a music-sized loose-leaf binder and sleeve pages, and have put together sections of music to work on, firstly by scales.  As I find something of interest I wish to keep long-term, I will add it to my Method repertoire.

A couple of other books I have but have not used much or at all yet include:

48 Studies for Oboe by Ferling…

Practical and Progressive Oboe Method by Andraud… includes reed-making

Barret Oboe Method by Boosey & Hawkes… the definitive guide

Dayton New Horizons Band

Me warming up this past Thursday before practice with the Dayton New Horizons Band.  Sadly, my first season will be ending on April 29th, our Concert Day.

This past week, five of us began a new journey of playing as a Double-Reed Chamber group; three Oboes, English Horn, and Bassoon.  This is my first real experience in playing with a small group; while I did at YSU’s Oboe Week last year, it’s a bit of a different environment in our Band, getting together after practice.  Hopefully, we’ll continue playing together beyond the end of the Band season.

My Oboe Library

I thought it might be helpful to share my pedagogical oboe library.  I’ve managed to amass a few books related to oboe study and practice, and they are listed here.  One day I’ll perhaps get around to reviewing them, but I can say that Martin Schuring’s book is perhaps the standard at the moment.

Oboe Technique, Third Edition  by Evelyn Rothwell ~ an excellent primer.

Marcel Tabuteau by Laila Storch. ~ though a biography, it is loaded with pointers from the master himself.  Has an appendix on his famous numbering system.

Sounds in Motion by Bruce McGill ~ great phrasing technique book, I highly recommend.

Oboe Secrets by Jacqueline LeClair – features 75 of her tips for better performance.

Oboe: Art and Method by Martin Schuring ~ perhaps the definitive work at this time.

The Art of Oboe Playing by Robert Sprenkle and David Ledet.

I should point out that these are my books related to oboe play and technique.  I have several others that pertain to reed-making!

Practicing before a performance

One aspect of preparation that I am trying to figure out is preparation right before a performance.  Currently, my preparation consists of long tones, especially in the low register, five note scales, and then playing the actual piece.  And there is the million dollar question; how many times to practice the piece before performing it, and how to play it.  How much to practice the day before??  I found a few items online that address this question:

Preparing for Performances and Recitals, written primarily for pianists by Chaun C. Chang.

Should One Practice Very Much the Day of the Concert, by Noa Kageyama, Ph.D., again for pianists, but applicable to all.

Tips for Staying Calm Before A Concert, thread on Stack Exchange.

I’ll be reflecting on these ideas and my own rituals as they develop…. more to follow as I wend my way through these things.

New Horizons

This month, I began a new creative project -learning the oboe.

I’ve dabbled in several instruments over the years, but have really taken none of them seriously, except perhaps violin.  When I was in elementary and junior high school, I played drums in the school bands, and took some private lessons.  It was ok, and mostly I played the big bass drum, not the flashy set that my friend Bobby played.

In late high school and college, I messed around with guitar on a beautiful black and gold Gibson Les Paul Custom that my aunts bought for me.  It was a great guitar and for collective purposes I wish I still had it.  Lager on, I traded it – stupidly – for a Yamaha bass guitar, and eventually bought a Rickenbacker 12-string.

I had always been fascinated with violin in classical music, especially Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, and really wished I could play it.  In 1987 (gosh I’m old..), I bought a violin and found a wonderful teacher in G Continue reading