When practicing, one usually focuses on the hard parts that are not perfect, but, every once in a while, you will accidentally play really well!  You might be able to play for hours without getting tired, you have a good reed day or you can tongue faster than normal!  Of course, the opposite can be true.  If something doesn’t work today – move on to something else – don’t force it.  Practice something slow and legato.  Practice scales, even with a dead tone – you are still making progress (Molly, our flute teacher would be jumping for joy – right?!)!  If nothing else – mentally practice, listen to recordings of accomplished musicians on your instrument, research articles or books related to styles of music or your instrument.  All musicians (students AND professionals) have off days – the universe will align once more!

Reference:  “Oboe Art & Method” by Martin Shuring


A Trip to the Symphony

A wonderful way to encourage your child to learn more about their instrument and hear it played by professionals is to take advantage of the reduced prices for tickets to concerts of area orchestras.  Your child’s teacher will quite often have comp (free) tickets to the orchestra’s they perform in as well.  High school musicals are happening now – take advantage of high quality, inexpensive productions!

Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra

20% off individual prices (25 years old and younger)


York Symphony Orchestra

$5 tickets for children for any concert (except family programs).

Saturdays Family Concerts (next one is Harry Potter – June 9th at 4:00 pm).

FREE open Dress Rehearsals on the day of the concert


Lancaster Symphony Orchestra

Free open rehearsals (comes with voucher for buy one children’s ticket and bring one adult for free to a concert)


Maryland Symphony Orchestra

Free tickets for students in K-12, children under 5 as well as $5 college student tickets.



10 Tips on How to Prevent Practice and Performance-Related Injuries

10 Tips on How to Prevent Practice and Performance-Related Injuries

  1. DO arm up (take a walk, stretch, begin slowly and easily on your instrument)
  2. DO take breaks (10 minutes per hour, minimum)
  3. DO sit/stand with good posture (shoulders down and back straight, feet flat on floor)
  4. DO increase your practice load gradually and vary your repertoire
  5. DO stress-reducing relaxation activities and exercise (yoga, massage, swimming, bicycling, for example)
  6. DO take one day off a week.
  7. Do be easier on yourself when you are under duress or when you are overtired.
  8. Do move (sitting very still can build up tension – wiggle and stretch and avoid being static in one position).
  9. DO breathe deeply.
  10. DO practice AWAY from your instrument (listen to recordings, study scores, mental preparation and visualizing performing well).

Reference:  “Playing (Less) Hurt” by Janet Horvath


Yes, Virginia, You Must Practice Sight-Reading!

Sightreading, also called a prima vista (Italian meaning “at first sight“), is the reading and performing of a piece of music or song in music notation that the performer has not seen before.

The only way you will learn to sight-read and get good at it is to practice sight-reading and you must practice every day to improve those skills (10-15 minutes of your practice time).  Knowing your scales and increasing your technique is paramount to becoming a good sight-reader.   l

I have noted below key areas to look at before you begin to sight-read.

Key signature(s) and time signature(s) – noting any changes throughout the piece

Unusual rhythms and repeated patterns


Repeats (including any D.S. and D.C.)

Tempo – don’t worry about playing fast when learning to sight-read – it is more important to try to be accurate.

I play duets with my students to incorporate sight-reading in a fun way.  We are practicing not only sight-reading, but also playing in tune with one another and I am emulating good tone production for my students to hear and imitate.  Get with a friend or a group of friends – play duets, trios, etc. with any combo of instruments and just have fun!


Tune It or Die

Do you ever wonder why the oboe tunes the orchestra?!  In the late 1600s, orchestras were comprised of mostly string instruments. Two oboes were sometimes used to boost the first and second violin parts. Soon composers were writing separate parts for the oboe, showing off its beautiful singing tone as a contrast to the violins. The bright, rather penetrating sound of the oboe was easy to hear, and its pitch was more stable than gut strings, so it was the obvious choice for reliable tuning. Other instruments were used in on occasion in the orchestra at that time – flutes, bassoons, French horns, clarinets – before its instrumentation became relatively standardized as we know it today. But oboes were almost always present, so they became the standard instrument for tuning.

Orchestras always tune to ‘A’, because every string instrument has an ‘A’ string. The standard pitch in the United States is A=440 Hertz (440 vibrations per second). European orchestras favor a slightly higher pitch – A=442 or higher.

Now here is a little known secret that the audience may not know – oboes can play sharp or flat, just like any other instrument, but every oboist uses a little electronic meter to ensure that their ‘A’ is exactly right.

Reference:  www.rockfordsymphony.com



As a professional oboist with oodles of years of performing (and working on computers), the thumb can be a very sore subject!   I have basal joint arthritis in my right thumb, which has required a few cortisone shots to get me through a challenging English Horn solo with orchestra a few years ago.  But, one can only have so many of those shots before it damages the joint.  I have a doctor ordered thumb/wrist brace that I wear at night if it gets too achy, but with some useful devices, that help support the oboe and take the weight off my thumb, I am able to play quite comfortably.

There are a lot of ways to relieve the pressure of the weight of the oboe to prevent issues or to make playing more comfortable, even if some damage has been done.  Not all work for all players, so you have to experiment to see what works for you.

The most basic device is a rubberized cushioned thumb saddle that I use on my own oboe as well as with my beginner oboe students, especially those with small hands.  The removable Ridenour Thumb Saddle is actually labeled for clarinet, but it works on the oboe too.  It slides over the thumb rest (if there is a ring, you will need to take a knife and make a slit in the top so it will slide around the ring).   See link below for a description and picture.

I also use a device that attaches to my thumb rest and rests on my chair to take the weight of the oboe off of my thumb.   It is also removable and easy to store.  I believe that only RDG sells this device (see link below).  There is a long and short version plus one that has an adaptor for those oboes without a ring on the thumb rest.

Some oboists swear by neck straps and there are elasticized and non-elasticized versions.  You do need to have a ring on the thumb rest to attach a neck strap.

There are also more complicated and expensive options that sometime require installation by a professional.  Forrest’s has a wide variety of those options including adjustable thumb rests and floor pegs for English Horn (see link below)

The following links are for information purposes only – you may find these projects less expensive elsewhere):

Ridenour Thumb Saddle for clarinet:


The Kickstand BHOB


Installed thumb savers, neck straps and pegs:


Helpful Literature:

“Playing (Less) Hurt:  An Injury Prevention Guide for Musicians,” by Janet Horvath

“Oboemotions:  What Every Oboe Payer Needs to Know About the Body,” by Stephen Caplan



Buy or Make Oboe Reeds?

This can be difficult decision, but the following information may help clarify whether your child is ready or really needs to make reeds!

♪   How long has your child played the oboe (I recommend waiting at least 3 years)?

♪   What is your child’s maturity level (can they be trusted with a sharp knife)?

♪  Does your child have the time set aside to learn and make reeds (if they are taking advanced   classes & participating in lots of extracurricular activities, do they realistically have several hours a week to devote to reed making)?  Oboe players must spend as much time making and adjusting reeds as they do practicing their oboes!

Yes, it is much less expensive to make your own reeds, but if there is no time in their schedules AND they are not focusing a future oboe career, is it realistic to make reeds?

My preferences?  My favorite student reeds are Jones, Lesher and Nielsen (Nielsen also makes great professional English Horn reeds).  My favorite cane, though I use other brands, is Danzi.  My favorite staples are Chudnow E with O Rings.

Here are my favorite places to purchase reeds, reed making materials and other oboe-related products:

Edmund Nielsen Woodwinds – www.nielsen-woodwinds.com

Hodge Products, Inc. – http://hodgeproductsinc.com/

JamesGang CaneWorks – https://www.jamesgangcaneworks.com/

Woodwind Brasswind – www.wwbw.com

Mark Chudnow Woodwinds – https://www.mcwoboe.com/

Come see me in Studio #8 (upstairs) at The Perfect 5th on Sunday, October 29th during the Open House!  I will be demonstrating oboe reed-making!

Mary McClain teaches Oboe and English Horn at The Perfect 5th – www.theperfect5th.com