The value of a daily warm up is to familiarize yourself with the manner in which you play your oboe and move towards a direction of flow. This is done at a comfortable dynamic level with a fuller sound in mind. Since warming up starts within your mind, think of it as putting on your “oboe-thinking cap” that places you in “oboe-thinking mode.” It gets you to become more aware of not only your intentions but also your air flow, your embouchure, your breathing, your diaphragm, your tongue as well as your environmental surroundings. Additionally, it turns on your ears as you listen to the sounds you produce as well as evaluate the quality of that sound. In general, a good warm up lubricates your mind through your sensory preceptors. Practicing in this manner will help you to become familiar and more comfortable with your playing, making it way more enjoyable and easier when you perform for others.
Keep in mind, that the sound will always give you feedback and, therefore, guide you to exactly what you need to do at that given moment: do more, do less, change or maintain your current actions.
As you warm up, learn to fill the physical space where you are with a full sound. Play to all of the corners of the room, to all of the walls, floors and ceiling. Even learn to play to the rooms next to the one you are in. Your tone vibrates, traveling through the air to fill space. Can you fill the entire space of the room as well as the building you are in? How about the whole neighborhood? Or even city? Play into a space as far as you can imagine; sense the beautiful vibrations that you are creating as they fill the world as you know it. Play into the ears of others around you, both near and far, and make it beautiful! Become very familiar with and enjoy this kind of sensory perception.
I suggest a length of warm up from about 10-30 minutes. Do it longer at first then hone it down to a shorter period of time as you become more familiar with this way of entering the mental state of playing the oboe. Sometimes, simply set your practice session to basic warm up skills while always focusing on opening your preceptors. Continually come back to the question: “does this action move me in the direction of flow” then sense your answer. If it doesn’t, then change something to create a new experience. If it moves you in the direction of flow then do a little bit more of it until it becomes familiar. Always move into the direction of increased flow. If you don’t experience this in your practice session then you need to re-evaluate what you are doing before proceeding and perhaps reset your intentions, expectation or actions. Now, with all of this in mind, explore the following areas in your warm up.
LIP BUZZING: This is essential to helping you find a relaxed position on the reed while providing the proper support from the surrounding lip muscles. Basically, we have to form a gasket, or a supportive circle, around the reed to help contain the air as is flows into the reed, which causes it to vibrate. Otherwise, the air will leak out from our lips and not into the reed and no vibrations occur.
First, buzz your lips fully. It should feel very loose and sound low in pitch. You won’t be able to do it for very long on one breath but that’s not too important right now. Next, we have to localize the buzz to the very center of our upper and lower lips. This is where things can become a bit tricky. Make your lips tighter on the sides so as to allow the buzz to only occur in the center. Do not place one lip directly over top of the other, like you are biting on something or squeezing something with your lips. Instead, drop your jaw and use only your muscles of your lips to find their way. Pull the corners or your mouth in and down. The resulting sounds will be more focused, centralized in the middle and higher in pitch than the first type of buzz.
Now, begin to control this buzz to keep it steady and held longer. The means to support it steadily with your air, maintain a consistent shape with your lips (tight in the corners, corners in and down, loose in the center, jaw dropped), and blow for a longer period of time. Try to sustain a steady pitch for as long as you can.
Basically, this is something that you can do when you don’t have access to your oboe, when your reed is soaking, when you are on your way to your lessons/rehearsals/concerts, or simply when you are doing nothing else. It’s a great way to make yourself familiar with your embouchure at any time of day!
REED CROWING: First, crow your reed without putting it in the oboe. Test it to see how hard you have to blow to get a sound to come out. You definitely need to make sure that it is soaked well in order for it to vibrate. Initially, you need to inhale, set your embouchure around the reed, set your tongue on the reed and set your diaphragm to blow. The release of the tongue is what starts the sound!
The embouchure, combined with the inner shape of the mouth, should feel conical in shape (like a cone, just like the inside of your oboe), even more like a funnel. This shape is much wider at one end and rather narrow at the other. The wide end is the back of the mouth, where the air comes from. The narrow end is the embouchure itself, which is what funnels the air into the reed. The very shape of the inside of your mouth should shape the air and guide it into the reed. This helps to create an easy flow of air. If your air is blocked at all, then you won’t feel the ease of the air going from within you and traveling through the reed. The resulting sound should be steady, stable and supported yet flowing easily. This can take some time to master but you will eventually get it right.
Crow the pitch “C” on your reed and hold the tone steady. Next, slur or slide down from a “C” to a “Bb” and hold it steady for as long as you comfortably can. Repeat, this time going to a third pitch, an “Ab.” Go back and forth repeatedly, stopping on each pitch and keeping it steady. Now crow up and down between those pitches several times but land on the “Ab” and hold it. Keep it steady and stable! First try this while holding onto the reed to move it in and out of your mouth. Then, when you are ready, do it without holding it with your hands and just use your lips to move the reed out as you go to the “Ab.” Be sure to always go to an “Ab,” which is often lower in pitch than you think. While it may not be easy right away this eventually helps you to learn how to play more on the tip of the reed, which is necessary for creating a healthy and stable sound.
BREATHE – SET – PLAY: We have all heard the phrase, “READY, SET, GO!” For playing your oboe this translates to “BREATHE, SET, PLAY!” This simple three-step process helps you to initiate your sound…consistently! Basically, you need to do this every time you create a sound on your reed or oboe. You need to do this in a timely manner as well. All too often we tend to do too many things at one time and end up being very sloppy and quick with our approach. The cleaner your approach to a task the cleaner the results will be. To create a nice sound in a timely manner you will need to focus on the release of the tongue from the reed. This requires some prep work first.
When you BREATHE in, or inhale, you take air into your lungs. This air will eventually keep the reed vibrating as you create a beautiful sound. You need air to play the oboe, you need air to create a full sound, you also need air for your body to function: Not only do you breathe life into yourself but also breathe life into your instrument!
There are several things that you have to prepare, or SET, in order to create a sound on your oboe. You need to place your curved fingers on the proper keys of the oboe to create a sounding pitch, set your embouchure around your reed so as to focus the air stream and not allow any air to escape, place your tongue on your reed to initiate the vibration and, lastly, set your diaphragm to exhale air, or to blow with force.
The PLAY part of this equation is the best part: all you need to focus on is the release of your tongue from the tip of the reed. All of your preparation will take care of the rest. It’s that simple!
Your rounded embouchure and supportive diaphragm will help you create a warm, beautiful and consistent sound! Feel the vibration as it travels out of your reed and through your oboe. Think of this process as a young bird learning how to fly: it is essential for the life of the bird and must be mastered! This takes you to the next several steps of your warm up process.
LONG TONES: Now, put the reed into the oboe, making sure that it is all of the way in. If it’s too hard to get in then you may need to put more lubricant on the cork part of your reed. You are going to keep the same embouchure as the A-flat pitch that you crowed previously and begin to make sounds on your oboe. Now finger a low “G” and blow using a well-rounded embouchure! Blow for a LONG time, for as long as the air within you will comfortably allow you to.
Feel the air move from within you, through your mouth, over your tongue, over your teeth, through your vibrating reed, through the inside of your oboe and out of the bell and tone holes of your oboe and take flight through all of the space in the room. It should feel fluid, smooth and steady. Do this on several notes, especially low notes, until it feels really easy. All you have to do is breathe and blow, its that simple. Listen to the sound that you create and enjoy the vibration. Can you feel your reed vibrate? How about your oboe? Can you feel it in your lips and face? How about your fingertips? Begin to turn on as many senses as you possibly can, all while you are playing your long tones!
FINGER MOTION: Next, let’s move just one finger at a time, so as to blow air between two notes, not just on one note. Again, use one finger at a time. Make it easy for yourself. Start with one-finger “B” and slur down to “A.” Now slur back and forth between the two notes, mindfully and slowly. It is essential that you slur as well as curve your fingers. Feel the presence of your fingers on the texture of the keys. Don’t press hard but instead use a very light touch. See how lightly you can touch the keys to make the tones come out clearly. You will surprise yourself as to how little finger pressure you may need to make this happen. Now try slurring from “A” to “G,” then “G” to “F#.” Keep playing in a downward manner, adding one finger at a time. Every time you add a finger make sure you keep light finger pressure in all of your fingers as they hold down the keys. Keep the remaining unused fingers close to the oboe, all curved and over top of the keys that they will maneuver. Don’t let them fly away and point to the sky like antennas! Essentially, imagine that your fingers and keys are one and the same, that your fingers are part of the oboe, not separate. It’s quite rewarding to know that your oboe is an extension of you and that you are an extension of your oboe! Become one with your oboe as you turn on your senses! Keep moving one finger at a time until all of your fingers are down. Make it feel as easy as you can in that moment.
Now you are ready to play some other finger exercises, such as scales and larger intervals, which will be discussed in further detail in another section.
TONGUING: Now you are ready to start using your tongue. Think “D” with the tongue and “OO” with the lips, creating “DO”. (While there are other consonant-vowel combinations to explore this is the best to start with.) Maintain your rounded embouchure. Simply divide your “long tone” into several portions with your tongue, like a knife cutting a very soft stick of butter: it simply divides the air stream into smaller portions. Do not stop blowing when your tongue touches the reed. Rather, keep blowing while your tongue is on the reed to properly support the next note that will sound. Always support your tone by continuously blowing, whether you are using your tongue or not.
Try several half notes at first, then later go to quarters, triplets, eighths, sixteenths, etc. Basically, learn to master your slow tonguing first. Feel easy with it; simplify the actions to the point where you become highly sensitive to the tongue releasing itself from the reed. This is the very point at with you create your sound, the point that you have the most control. So it’s a good idea to be very aware of that moment. Later, this helps you as you test reeds and choose the ones that play best for you.
This concludes your basic warm up. It’s a fairly simple process with endless possibilities of sensations to experience. Allow your mind to open and your body to relax as you enjoy these sensations. Everything you do gives you feedback on your process. Allow that feedback to come to you, take it in and digest it. Allow it to lead you to your next steps and unfold naturally. Not every practice session is the same, nor should it be. Don’t just simply repeat it but explore as many sensations as you can possibly handle at one time! The warm up is supposed to open your senses, focus your awareness and simplify your actions. Learn to become a master at this right away!