Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Face the music

I can't remember what I was searching for on the web when I came across this site. I was immediately intrigued of course. When I first read it I wasn't sure if they were referring to musical grades or school grades. Well, I quickly realized that they were referring to junior high/high school.

The 7th-8th grade piece was the one that most caught my attention solely because that Oboe Solos book is the one I am currently playing from. So here was a piece that I had access to. I listened to the piece a few times and at first it seemed like it would be difficult for a 12 or 13 year old to sound like that. When I looked at the sheet music at home I realized that the music itself wasn't difficult, but I still felt that it must be rare to hear a very young person with a very beautiful sound. I wonder how long it takes the average kid to start sounding really nice on their oboe? And are they making their own reeds or someone making them for them??

I was tormented with doubt about whether I could play the piece myself. I ran through it a few times on Saturday with JC trying his hand at the accompaniment. It definitely wasn't difficult in a technical sense, but I felt inadequate regardless. While my sound is no longer ducky (at least I don't think it is) it certainly isn't hauntingly beautiful and songlike.

I decided to conduct a little experiment. I did not listen to the recording on the web site more again since I found it on Friday to ensure that I had not memorized it. I wanted to record myself playing the piece so that I could compare it to that recording. The experiment took place last night on my old computer. JC has a digital recording program on it. Because he has a trial version there is no way to convert the recording to a compressed format like mp3 so I have no way of sharing it for now. Maybe some day hehe.

Here are the results:

Metrics - I was a bit surprised about this since I always feel that I have problems with rhythm. Maybe I'm just traumatized by my past failed attempts to read jazz music and not feeling jazz swing. At least with Classical you play what's on the paper. Anyway, I wasn't quite sure what allegretto in 6/8 was supposed to sound like so I went with my gut instinct. Turns out I was on the right track. My recording was only 3-4 seconds longer than hers.

Intonation - I was probably a hair flat overall since it was the very first thing I played last night but I was in tune with myself. I didn't hear any glaring problems. Then again the piece is fairly easy as it doesn't have troublesome intervals; the melody is mostly stepwise.

Reading - My reading wasn't terrible but I did make some mistakes in the middle of the piece. I kept going though.

Articulation & Breathing - I put these together because I think they affect each other. Maybe I should just call this phrasing. My lines could have been smoother and I think I was breathing haphazardly which wasn't helping matters.

Dynamics - I tried to pay attention to these but I think I forgot about it towards the end.

The first two I think are definitely correctable by actually practicing the piece (as opposed to just reading through it). Dynamics are a bit trickier on my old reed. Maybe I should play it on my newer one next time.

Sound - Bah. I was able to get a nice sound on my sax pretty early on. This is not the case with the oboe. I didn't really sound anything like that recording. I felt like I sounded almost like a saxophone. Kind of cold and tinny instead of warm and dark and woody. It did dawn on me that her recording has some kind of effect going on, like reverb. So at one point I played around with that and my sound was nicer but then I felt like that was cheating. Before I got too down on myself I decided to listen to some recordings I had made in March. Teehee, there I was struggling with some Gekeler etudes. I feel like I made dramatic improvements from Jan - March, but from March through now the changes have been more subtle. I sound a little cleaner and more in tune but the main difference now is that I can play harder stuff (not so much a sound difference). Still, I could definitely hear at least a small amount of sound improvement though I am still leagues away from being a swan. At the end of my experiment I decided that I shouldn't beat myself up too badly about the sound just yet.

*sigh* But I think this is why sometimes I feel that rather than playing Handel's Sonata No. 1 badly I should just go back to basics. Then again one can stay stuck in the basics indefinitely without ever playing any real music. That can't be good either.

I'll conduct this assessment again in a month's time.

I still think that as an adult learner it is time which is our biggest enemy. I don't really think that it's something in my brain which makes me inherently worse at learning music now. It's all a matter of time. Apparently I've moved up to about an early high school level in 5 months. My "sophisticated" adult thinking (and prior musical knowledge) helped me move through the very early stages quickly. However from here on out each level of improvement will be progressively more difficult to achieve because the time aspect becomes more important. Practice time is the great equalizer. No matter how well I understand fancy musical concepts there is no substitute for practice and getting my muscle memory working. If I were to join a high school band now and my fellow oboist were practicing 3 hours a day and I kept practicing just 1, he'd still improve more than me even if he knows nothing about music. So I think I need to get really serious about the "dirty work" that needs to be done. And I need to spend less time on frivolous musical activities. My practice time needs to be more intense. Hmm, I will need to think about this more and how to make it happen over the next few days. Meanwhile my imaginary partner will simply just DO it and not overthink it like me. *giggle*

No comments: