Saturday, May 12, 2007

Latest lessons

After that one good lesson about a month ago where my teacher told me she wanted me to start learning the Mozart, I've had two not so great lessons.

In fact, I am starting to worry that my lesson habits are starting to get ingrained. I know that part of it is nerves. I think I get a bit starstruck around great oboists and add that to my already high level of anxiety, it makes for a bad situation. Then there is the negative inner dialogue. We ended up spending quite a bit of time addressing this during the last two lessons. I really don't want these lessons to become therapy sessions again, so I have to put an end to this behavior ASAP. Once my MCAT is over (13 more days!! *gulp*) I hope to read some of the books I have on this.

The other issue that is coming up and driving me nuts is my breathing. Remember how I am on beta blockers because my heart beats too fast? I have often wondered if there is a respiratory element to my mystery ailment. My husband and I have both noticed that I seem to hold my breath a lot and that when I do breathe I breathe extremely shallowly. So I am coming into this picture with yet another disadvantage. My teacher feels that this, more than anything, is what is keeping my playing from being where it could be right now. She doesn't think it's my not-always-consistent embouchure, my messy fingers, or anything else. She feels that my improper use of air is the number one weak area at this point. I need to take in a lot more air, a lot more often, and then once I do I need to use it better, to make it warmer and faster and to play through my phrases. I think she's probably right about this because when I hear recordings of myself I realize that certain elements are ok, but that that my playing sounds disjointed. My phrasing is cut off because I interrupt the air stream when I shouldn't.

I guess I should be happy that even though my embouchure is STILL not perfect and that my fingers are messy, that I can still play. But then again, this whole breathing thing is so basic that I am having an extremely difficult time retraining myself.

With my test coming up, I think my aim is just to practice every day, perhaps for only 30 minutes. Rather than focus on the music I am playing I am going to try to focus on my two problem areas. For one week I will play whatever (scales, long tones, random music) and focus only on eliminating negative inner dialogue. I will only allow myself to critique my playing at designated times during the practice. I will also try to allow myself to think of what is going well more often. Perhaps that will help my brain reinforce the good things. Because what's happening at lessons is that I will be playing mostly ok, my teacher notices something that is off, then when I play the phrase again I focus so much on the wrong area that the other good things disappear. This is happening pretty consistently and we're both worried about that. I have to find a way to stop the mind games. Once I get rid of (or at least tone down) the "I suck" voices, I will then focus on breathing. Hopefully taking good breaths will become natural at some point and then once I learn to have all that air inside I can figure out how to best use it.

The good news is that it wasn't all bad. My teacher was really excited about my sound during my scales. By the way, she has me playing them as sixteenth notes now and I have to try to play them as fast as possible. Some of them I am playing at quarter note = 100, which is twice as fast as I was playing them a few months ago when I was doing eighths at that same speed. I guess that's progress. Especially since I am intimidated by fast playing.

Among the crappy parts, some parts of the Marcello (we're back to the 1st mvt) actually sounded really good. She was happy about how much it has improved since I started it. That made me happy :-)

I may not be able to post again until after my test. Please pray that I do well because I REALLY don't want to have to retake this and am desperately looking forward to the summer and to being able to devote myself to my oboe as much as I want to.


Anonymous said...

try to take it easy on yourself! You have so much on your plate right now; try to relax and use your oboe playing as a source of enjoyment, not another source of stress. It's hard, I know, when you know what you want to sound like, but you just aren't there. Hopefully the process of getting there can be enjoyable too.

I was wondering how you fared with the play-in. Did you have fun?

oboeinsight2 said...

Hi Hilda!

A lot of musicians use beta blockers, so I really don't think that should change breathing. If anything, it might make one more able to concentrate on breathing. At least that's what I would think! (I'm no doctor.)

BUT ... for the phrasing and breathing maybe you could try something new. Figure out the phrases ... where commas and periods might appear if the music was something with words. THEN put words in there. The words should make snese with the phrasing. Then, as you play, sing those words in your head. You sing, yes? So you might be able to work out the lines and phrasing that way. It's just an idea, but I do this sometimes myself; it takes the focus away from my troublesome "stuff" and helps me think differently.

Changing the way one thinks about a piece sometimes helps! (I've even been known to "move the barline" to practice something differently ... it can help with rhythm and approach ... or I turn a huge number of sixteenths into a triplet feel, so that I can feel things differently and get away from anything troublesome that is caused by groupings of four). I'm not sure if this makes sense to you, but it's just a suggestion ....

Hang in there! Happy oboing! :-)

Guanaco said...

Good luck on your upcoming MCATs! Maybe you should let your oboe playing be a stress reduction measure for the tensions and anxiety of those tests. Take a temporary break from the "learning" part of the oboe and just play for fun and relaxation - at least until the testing is done.

I suffer from the same lesson anxieties as you describe. It's so frustrating... I'm currently reading The Inner Game of Music, but so far it hasn't helped much.

Hilda said...

Hi everyone! So nice to hear from all of you. I really need the support right about now - thanks so much. Definitely it sounds like I should just have some fun with my playing for the next two weeks. :-)

Hilda said...

Oops, forgot to add that I will post about the play-in probably after the test. It was a fun and nerve-wracking day. I ended up playing for almost 3 hours and got some leads (i.e. I meet a French Horn player). But I won't be following up with anyone until June. Hopefully soon I will have good news about finding people to play with.

Jill Cathey said...

I agree that you should not worry about moving ahead with your oboe playing these next few days, just play for fun and enjoyment - once thee mcat is over your mind will be more ready to focus on oboe related things. I think it is great you are playing every day, perhaps if you take the focus off your "problems" and just play, some of those problems will solve themselves!

Good luck - we are thinking of you!

nutterz said...

Hello Hilda!

Happened to stumble across your blog, and I totally understand the problems you go through (we're all in this together :D).

Happened to be working on the marcello and mozart as well!

Was reading up about using beta blockers, and I found out that although it's proven to help calm nerves, it might not be ideal because part of a good performance is sort-of stress-driven! There was this article whereby a concert pianist performed with and without beta blockers on two separate nights. She felt that she was more calm and composed on the night in which she took the beta blockers, but somehow the audience said that that performance was not as good. Go figure :P

Meanwhile, hang in there! :D

T. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.