5 Pillars Of Success For The Developing Oboist

Will You Become Tomorrow's Oboe Master?

  • It is hard to predict who will reach the highest echelons within the oboe community, and those who actually  achieve it are not our only superstars.  Superstars exist at every age and experience level.  Those oboists who work hard to achieve their goals, do the right things in life, take care of their relationships, and persevere in the face of obstacles are superstars in my book.  "It is not where you are, but how far you have come".
  • The following 5 pillars of core learning principles for any aspiring musician. 

1 - Listen, Listen, Listen

A Musical Life Is a Listening Life

Musicians ask their audience to listen.  This is an awesome experience and responsibility.  You are communicating powerful ideas and emotions without words.  One teacher of mine said that "if you want the audience to really listen, you have to make each note very interesting-both alone and in combination with others".   Listening in particular ways stretches our ability to be interesting, and to pick up musical nuances, styles, and interpretations that can be transferred that into our own playing. 

Listen to music, all kinds of music.  Listen to what tickles your ear.  Listen to what soothes you, and what makes you feel nervous or excited.  To the extent your training allows you, dig deeper into your analysis. What about tone?  What about dynamics?  What about inflection?  What about vibrato?  What about the composition of the group?  What about the musical genre?  This is fundamental ear training.

Below are some samples of professional oboists in performance.  They are each great examples of the glory of oboe, and how smart we are to choose it  to enrich our own musical lives.

2- Sing, Sing, Sing

Oboists in Song

  • Sound production on the oboe is very similar to the voice.  Learning to sing, with support, windspeed and vibrato will help every aspect of your oboe playing.  You will learn how to manipulate your throat and how to throw your air.  Further, you can practice almost any time and anywhere.
    • Singing was instrumental in my discovery of vibrato.  It was slow in coming for me, and was not emphasized in my pre-conservatory studies.  I started with a terrible voice, and had a hard time getting to the right notes.  After some concerted effort over time, I can now say that I like my voice, I have established a good vibrato, have better relative pitch, and am not embarrassed to sing in lessons.  Sing in your choir (especially if your school doesn't have a band or you are not ready for the one that exists).  If you don't have time for a choir, sing your favorite songs, with and without recordings; with your friends, or alone.  
  • Oboists need to produce their music on pitch, and there are things they need to do to ensure this happens.  Singing can help to develop a better relative pitch because the the singer needs to anticipate the pitch before producing it.  While oboists need to do the same, the margin for error is greater for a singer, and is therefore a more demanding and effective exercise for the development of relative pitch.
  • Sing, sing sing- in school and church choirs, with your friends, alone and in your lessons. You will be surprised how important it will be to your long term result.
  • Listen to this recording from Madame Butterfly by Puccini, snugly Maria Callas.  Notice the expressive lines. Listen to the vibrato.  She is actually manipulating a centered pitch and moving around it starting on the higher and going to its lower edges.  It creates the shimmer we want.  You can do this too.

3- Work Hard

Learn What The Oboe Cane Do and How To Do It

An oboe is not a tuba, but you will find that it is a strenuous instrument and has its own challenges. This section requires a lifetime of dedication.

Learn The Basic Structure of Music

Scales and arpeggios are boring, but they are building blocks.  Rhythms, dynamics, articulations.  It all has to be at your fingertips, and part of your DNA.


Master your instrument one step at a time.  A hour or more a day is preferred but not always practical.  It is better to really focus for 30-45 minutes than to be haphazard for 2 hours.  It is also much better to practice every day, on a schedule, than to cram for your lesson the day before, or not at all.

Participate In As Much Structured Music Making As Possible

Learn how to play in a group.  Listen to others. Build skills.  Don't worry whether you are first or second chair.  There is something to be learned in either place, and it doesn't define you.

4- Relax and Have Fun

Don't Stress The Small Stuff

Accept Setbacks

Celebrate Successes

Get Enough Sleep