I think we’ve diagnosed the problem

We have had such a difficult few weeks.

Opie has been having great difficulties while practicing. She tries to play and certain notes just don’t come out.

Of course we talked with her teacher. He tuned up the upper register, and that seemed to help, but when she tried to practice the next day or day after, the problem returned.

Frustration ran really high. It put a big kink in Opie’s practice sessions – it’s hard to focus on learning difficult passages, if you can’t even get the notes out. To keep frustration from boiling over, I would drop back on having her do repetitions and on using the metronome, rather just concentrating on making sure she was playing something each day as best she could. But it also took a toll on her confidence: she grew less certain that she could make the oboe do what she wanted, when she wanted. This took pleasure away from playing.

We tried the fixes we knew. Switching reeds didn’t seem to help – but were all our reeds bad? Cleaning the reed didn’t help. Opie insisted that the reed wasn’t closed, and it certainly didn’t look closed. I would check the oboe as best I could but it seemed to be in good playing order.

It hit a peak a couple days before her last lesson. I had two ideas: I taped her playing a couple songs that were giving her trouble, and I sent a desperate note to her teacher, so he knew what to think about before her lesson.

Saturday came. We played the tape for Teacher, and he made a diagnosis! Her reeds were too hard, and they couldn’t vibrate adequately.
It was a combination of issues:
– over-soaking the reeds
– reeds in need of more adjustment
– putting too much reed in her mouth.
She needs to learn to crow the reed before playing and to understand what the sound and the feel of the crow mean.

She’s had two practice sessions since Saturday. We’ve changed our soaking timer to 4 minutes and we’re taking the reed out right away. I remind her to pull the reed out a bit if there is trouble. Her tone has improved and there are very few missing notes. Her confidence still has a ways to climb but I hope that with continued success this too will happen.

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