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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Just Breathe: Ease Nerves and Regain Calm in Less than 1 Minute

I don't know about you all,  but this is an incredibly busy time of the semester for our students and faculty alike.  Lots and lots of concerts, exams, juries, auditions, etc, etc.

But hey,  as musicians,  being "busy" is usually considered a good thing.  Unless you let it lead to stress.  And there's no reason to feel stressed as long as you can gain control of your breathing.


Here's an exercise I give to my students to help them calm down and regain focus just before big performances/events or anytime they feel stressed.

You can turn a metronome on to quarter note= 60 for this exercise,  or just count seconds.

1. Breathe in for 2 beats/seconds,  breathe out for 2 beats/seconds.
2. Breathe in for 3 beats/seconds,  breathe out for 3 beats/seconds.
3. Breathe in slowly for 4 beats/seconds,  breathe out for 4 beats/seconds.
4. Breathe in slowly for 5 beats/seconds,  breathe out for 5 beats/seconds.
5. Breathe in slowly for 6 beats/seconds,  breathe out for 6 beats/seconds.
6. Breathe in slowly for 7 beats/seconds,  breathe out for 7 beats/seconds.
7. Breathe in very slowly for 8 beats/seconds,  breathe out for 8 beats/seconds.
8. Breathe in very slowly for 9 beats/seconds,  breathe out for 9 beats/seconds.
9. Breathe in very slowly for 10 beats/seconds,  breathe out for 10 beats/seconds.

At this point you should be feeling calmer and in control of your breath.  Doesn't it feel good?

Repeat as needed, and share with others.

You're welcome.

Oboe and out,

The Oboist.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Planning for GREAT MUSIC in the Summer on a Dime

This message is for Anthony, who wrote to me asking about opportunities for advancing his college level oboe skills over the summer on a limited budget.

While in the perfect world we'd all get into the prestigious music festival of our choice with a full scholarship,  that's not always the reality. However,  as a budding college level musician,  you have the perfect opportunity to start thinking like the entrepreneurial musician you'll HAVE to be once you graduate.

Here are just a few ways to the advance your skills over the summer without breaking the bank:

1. Take some  lessons with a different teacher.  This will give you a different perspective and widen your knowledge of professional oboists at the same time.  Bring in specific technical issues that you've been working with during the semester with your university teacher and see if this other teacher can help you solve the problem/suggest ways to approach the issue in a new way for you.  Sometimes a slightly different way of teaching can help you understand what your first teacher was trying to teach you in the first place.

2. Don't have much $ for lessons? Barter. See if the teacher will give you lessons for reduced rates in exchange yard work, help with home repairs, babysitting, etc. etc. I think most teachers would be happy to make a arrangement like this if possible.

3. Teach lessons to younger players. Hit the pavement and contact area band directors and offer to help with summer band, put up flyers to promote your oboe studio, etc. Every time you teach a lesson to a younger player,  you're reinforcing how you approach the oboe to yourself (as well as your student!)
Some of the $ you earn can be used for TAKING lessons with the teacher of your choice in #1.

4. Make reeds for younger players. Make sure they are stable and easy blowing, then sell to your private students and their band classmates.  Use the $ you earn to purchase your own reed supplies/tools. A few regular customers can keep you well stocked with your own cane AND the extra time spent on reed making is GUARANTEED to improve your skills by regularly making reeds throughout the summer.

4. Contact teachers from other area colleges/universities and see if they will give you the contact info for their oboe students. These oboe students are your future professional colleagues,  so contact them to read chamber music, make reeds together and play for one another. Trust me,  can never have too many oboe friends in this profession!

5. Perform a summer recital. Use some of the pieces that you've learned over the last year or semester, maybe share the recital with a new or old oboe friend,  or a former high school classmate who also went on to study music in college.  Play the recital at your old high school, a local church, community center or  senior center. Invite your family, old friends and teachers who likely haven't heard you since high school and they will be amazed at your progress!

6.  If you're currently playing in a chamber ensemble at school,  keep the group together over the summer. If all of the ensemble members live in the same region (of several hours or so),  meet up for a few rehearsals,  then give a concert in each of your hometowns. What a great way to improve your ensemble skills over the summer AND have fun performing together. With home stays and carpooling,  this doesn't have to cost much at all.

7. Look for summer bands to perform in.  Many communities have live band music in the parks (there's a thriving series here in Eau Claire with most of the members comprised of current and retired band directors and other amateur music lovers).  Most groups would LOVE to have an good oboist join them!

8. Ask members of the summer band to read chamber music with you. There's LOADS of free music to download on imslp.org! Once summer when I was in college I played in a summer band with many amateurs.  An elderly gentleman playing clarinet gathered a few of us to read chamber music and it was unforgettable. The technical levels of the musicians might not have been that high,  but their love of music and enthusiasm for chamber music was a true inspiration.

9. Set personal goals for yourself at the beginning of the summer. Then STICK to them.  Maybe your goal is to practice more, learn a few new pieces, master a technical issues, etc.  Write out a plan then hold yourself accountable.  Let your summer teacher know your plans and help guide you as well.

10. Go to an area where there are street performers (often known as "buskers"). Go out and play. Open your case and even earn a few dollars.  The money isn't the important part here--this is an opportunity for you to play for a public audience.  What sort of playing is needed to capture the attention of passers by?  It's a great lesson in getting to know a diverse audience and trying out new repertoire.


These are just the few ideas that come to mind immediately,  but all have the potential to broaden your experiences and deepen your skills.  Please add your own suggestions for summer playing in the comments section below!

Oboe and out,

The Oboist