You are an elementary or middle school band director and you are going through the annual struggle with getting even instrumentation for your band.
You also have 2 students who picked Oboe as their first choice.
Should you let them start on Oboe, or sway them to another instrument for the first few years?
You haven't touched an Oboe since College methods class, and that was only for 4 weeks.
But you already have a million flutes and saxes – alright, maybe not a million 😉
YES, Start them!
If you have students that are willing to learn the instrument, by all means let them start on it. Intrinsic motivation is very important for learning an instrument, and especially important on the Oboe.
We all know that when you want to do something, and you put your mind to it and keep the goal clear, attainable and specific, it can be done.
Years ago, I had a 3rd Grade General Music student who was so entranced with the sound of the instrument. He confidently said to me that he was going to play the Oboe in Band next year, in which he did!
You can also motivate your students by exposing them to videos of popular music and jazz artists on their chosen instruments. Yes, everyone can play Jazz! Check out Yusef Lateef's In the Evening below:
I would strongly suggest that you test your potential Oboe student's ability to match pitch. I always say to my students they have to match pitch perfectly to play instruments like the Oboe and French Horn because it's very easy to play the wrong note if you cannot hear it beforehand.
As part of my teaching, I have students echo tonal patterns in either major and minor keys at the beginning of every lesson. For example, in the key of Eb: Do-Mi-Do; Re-Ti-Re; Do-Mi-So; So-Fa-Re; Mi-So-Do, etc. (You can see how I teach these here at this Video link.)
If students are fairly accurate echoing the patterns, some further work with this will absolutely help their Oboe playing.
The only times I would say no to a student wanting to start the Oboe is when:
- Students are having tremendous difficulty echoing the pitches accurately. It would be best if they started on another instrument until their pitch matching skills improved.
- Students who are experiencing great difficulty with coordinating their fingers where it is difficult to move from one fingering to the next. If your school has an Occupational Therapist, it would be a great idea to check in with them and discuss your students' needs.
One year, I had 2 girls starting on Oboe in 4th Grade. Both were good musicians, having played violin and piano as well. Once they got past a few tricky fingerings, I played a little trick on them. (I like to joke around A LOT with my students – they love it and it makes for a more fun environment.) April Fool's Day was coming up, so I assigned for them to learn the entire Essential Elements 2000, Book 1 in 2 weeks, and I would ask them to play anything I chose. One of the girls figured it to be a joke, but the other thought I was serious. She went home and learned the entire book in 2 weeks!
This girl apologized because she didn't quite have the last few pages worked out. I decided to let the joke go on a little longer and I heard her play a bunch of exercises from the book. I was floored – I couldn't believe how well she was playing. When I told her I was only kidding, she was shocked and gave me a momentary evil look, but she realized something at that point. Number one, I'm really good at pulling off jokes! 😉 Number two, she got past a major hurdle in her playing. This was a turning point for her, because she went from an ordinary performer to a terrific performer – in fact, one of the best I ever had!
Practical tips to help teachers who are non-Oboists:
- If you personally don't have enough experience playing the instrument, and are worried you cannot teach it properly, research some local private Oboe teachers and get some advice. Contact the high school teacher in your district (or other districts that are close by) and ask for referrals to private Oboe teachers.
- Contact the closest orchestra and get the names of the professional Oboists. Ask if they can teach a master class for your students to get them started correctly.
- Contact local colleges with solid music programs, and also ask for referrals to private teachers. You can also ask the advanced college Oboe students to work with your students a few times during the year to keep them on the right track.
- It never hurts to take lessons on the instrument for yourself. Through your own study, you can experience some of the things your students are experiencing, and can help them improve.
- Rely on professional Oboists to make reeds. Don't try to do this yourself if you have not had experience. It is a lot different than fine tuning your clarinet reed. This is best for students who are making nice progress and have been playing for a few months.
- For beginners, there are many “pre-made” Oboe reeds that are of good quality. I have found many online, even on Amazon.com. (Please note, I am an Amazon affiliate.) These are good enough to start with, but once your students become more accomplished, I would recommend that you seek someone who can make Oboe reeds.
Regardless of the instrument, providing precise practice plans and strategies, positive reinforcement, challenges that are just above their level but attainable, and exposure to great role models through watching YouTube videos or having great performers visit your school will give your students the best information and clear goals to pursue for their own musical experiences.
- Talk to colleagues and/or private Oboe teachers to get their feedback on when to start students on the instrument.
- Have your interested students talk to peers that play Oboe and are in upper middle school or high school. Students sometimes learn best from students, and can get valuable insight on what to expect.
- Want more tips to motivate young musicians to practice? Click here.