Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Oboe Doctor Is IN: Answering a reader's question on building embouchure endurance.

An oboist has written me asking how to build endurance for playing the Richard Strauss Oboe Concerto. They mentioned that learning the first movement is especially taxing, that their embouchure gives out, and asks for suggestions to build endurance. 

What a great question!  

When learning any piece, but especially the exquisite but taxing Richard Strauss Oboe Concerto,  you have to be smart about your preparations. The first movement is really long, with few breaks, so you have to plan your practice carefully.

First,  make sure that the Strauss Oboe Concerto is NOT the ONLY thing that you are practicing.
As a student,  you should also be spending a large  part of your daily practice sessions on long tones  (described in my post found here ) and scales. These important  building blocks will develop your embouchure strength and flexibility, and encourage good air and body use, which are essential to building endurance. I can't emphasize the importance of this first suggestion enough! By spending the majority of your practice sessions mastering these techniques,  you'll be able to improve quickly and apply these skills directly  to your repertoire work. 

If you only practice large sections of the concerto until your face hurts or your embouchure is unable to support the reed with stable pitch or good sound,  then you are only reinforcing bad habits.  Instead, make sure that you are always insisting upon good air support and a well-formed embouchure in your practice as developed through long tone work and scale practice.

Next, make sure you are finding ample places to BREATHE. You can either learn to circular breathe (found at this post ) or find musically appropriate places to let out old air and take in fresh air (and there are quite a few places for this!) You have to realize that your muscles NEED oxygen to function well,  and if you aren't taking in enough oxygen,  then your embouchure muscles will tire more easily (as will the rest of your body, too!) and you won't be able to perform your best.

Then, once you know where you'll breathe,  link your phrases together.  Play through sections (of 4 or more phrases)  then repeat a number of times. This will give you the opportunity to play through large sections and feel comfortable physically and mentally. 

Next,  connect your large sections together, being insistent with yourself that you take ample opportunities to breathe. Then repeat. This practice suggestion is to build endurance playing even larger sections while feeling comfortable physically and mentally. Once you have linked larger sections together, then eventually play through the entire movement.

As the saying, "Rome wasn't built in a day" goes, over time,  you'll find that your embouchure endurance will grow through thoughtful, consistent practice that slowly builds embouchure strength and reinforces good habits as well.

Hope that helps!

Oboe and out,

The Oboist

1 comment:

  1. So helpful, thank you! I've been panicking at what seems like no difference in my stamina, despite quite a lot of heavy practice. This post has reminded me to a) go back to the basics (long notes, other exercises - I really shouldn't need telling this but of course, I do!) and b) breathe. The latter is really interesting. Of course I've done lots of work on breathing in the past, including on breathing out to expel CO2 (after many instances of light-headedness), but I never drew the obvious link to my embouchure muscles and the build up of lactic acid. I have big old lungs and can play for a long time (I did the last minute of The Swan of Tuonela on two breaths, rather than an alternative with an extra breath, cos I could and it helped keep the phrasing). But just cos I can doesn't mean I should, and in the pieces I'm playing at the moment, there are plenty of opportunities to grab quick breaths or exhales that I wasn't using. And I was tiring my lips so quickly. So I just experimented and took *every* opportunity to breath out (several times in a row before the next in breath, if appropriate) and in and it made a *massive* difference. Quite apart from anything else, I'm no longer panicking about stamina (or at least not as much) and this is a benefit in itself, as I'm less tense all told. Thanks again - found this post via a Google search and am looking forward to reading more of your posts now. :-)