Monday, September 23, 2013

Are you avoiding articulations?

Hi All-

After a year sabbatical,  I'm back teaching. I'M SO HAPPY TO BE BACK AT SCHOOL WITH MY UNIVERSITY OBOISTS!  They're great people and I learn SO MUCH from them!

In our first week of lessons,  my students inspired me to produce numerous  blog topics, including vibrato (this will be a multipart post coming up), resonance, beginning notes from silence, and avoiding articulations.  So much inspiration, so LITTLE TIME. I'll get to all of these topics and more,  but please be patient since I'm inundated with teaching oboe, aural skills courses, an American music course, chamber music, performing recitals, having great rehearsals with colleagues, attending meetings, meetings, meetings, and grading, grading, grading, grading.  It's all good stuff,  but...

But here's the first gem: Avoiding articulations.

So a lovely new student was playing a Barret etude in her lesson and it was quite good. Except, most of the articulations were ignored. This got me thinking:

Just like there are people in the world who press the SNOOZE button and those who never do,  there are oboists who either ALWAYS play the correct articulations, or others who seem to make articulations up as it pleases them.  And you know who you are, dear readers!

So, the question is: WHY do some oboists avoid articulations.  It's easy to just think that it is a matter of not noticing,  but I believe the issue is usually much deeper. I think it is actually a matter of AIR USE.
Now stay with me here.

As a student is learning to play oboe,  most are not taught that articulated notes on the oboe need really good air support. If there is inadequate air support,  the reed will usually fight back, either making a resistant sound, not sounding at all, or squawking. By increasing one's air pressure through the reed and maintaining good support, then this will go away. You also must make sure that the reed is not too resistant, etc.

But,  if you never really learn this, you'll likely not have consistent and clean articulations. So it sounds better to slur notes instead. And hey,  your band director probably won't notice anyway, because there's 10 million other things on their plate.

So you've just instilled a habit:  avoiding articulations because it sounds better and is easier if you don't have good air support.

The next question is how to replace this habit, right?
Awareness is the first step. Notice if you are consistently avoiding articulations. Then go back and read my posts on air support and breathing:

air assignment #1
breathing--the nuts and bolts

Then,  BLOW MORE CONCENTRATED air through your oboe. Really fill the instrument with a big, resonant sound. Then make just one articulation. Notice how much easier it was with adequate air use?  Cool, huh?

Then try articulating multiple notes. Not so hard anymore, right?  Now, go back to your practicing and ENJOY every opportunity for articulation that your music provides.


The Oboist


  1. Hello,

    I just recently found your blog and find it very informative and fun to read! I have a question about using more air support and dynamics. I find that when I support my air more, I sound much better but I am way too loud! What is your advice for playing quieter but still maintaining that air support?

  2. Megan-

    Check out the video demonstration for oboe dynamics that I made on Youtube:

    Best wishes,