If you're just starting out with a woodwind instrument, you already know there's a lot to remember. Between good posture and proper embouchure, some woodwinds are among the most challenging instruments to master on a technical level. But a few tips can help you along the way, and make learning the instrument a lot easier. Here are ten tips for beginning woodwind players.
Take Your Time
If you're picking up a woodwind for the first time, the most important thing to remember is to take your time. Don't rush through your scales or any beginning repertoire you're assigned – take the time to familiarize yourself with how the instrument feels in your hands, how your breath feels moving through it, and how each individual note feels. Play everything largo or andante starting out – it will help you gain that familiarity and help you play more accurately.
Scales, Scales, Scales
Even if you don't work on repertoire every day, take a little bit of time each day to run scales in various keys. In particular, make it a point to run the scales of each key your repertoire represents – it will help to acquaint you intimately with the individual feel of each key signature and help you to play notes more accurately. Scales will also help you perfect your fingering technique and embouchure, so you can play repertoire more effectively.
Many beginning woodwind players are tempted to tense up their muscles, particularly around the neck and shoulders, when they play. While your posture should be straight and erect to promote better breathing, your neck and shoulders should be relatively relaxed. If you keep this area tense while you play, it will interfere with your breathing and, after awhile, make you sore – making it harder to focus on playing accurately and beautifully. Standing while you play rather than sitting may help if you tend to focus tension in your neck and shoulder area – just mind you don't wind up tensing your lower back, too!
Anticipate Your Breath
Every instrument has a different “resistance” - essentially, the time it takes for the breath to produce the sound. Don't wait until you're out of breath to start sounding the next note, and play close attention to how long it takes between you blowing into your instrument and it making a sound. Some woodwinds are very breath-intensive – such as the oboe or the clarinet – and anticipating your breath will help you to sustain a clear, dynamically stable sound every time.
Remember Bare Lips
Rule number one: no lipstick, no lip gloss, no lip balm, no nothing! If you're about to play, don't put anything on your lips, as lip products can interfere with your embouchure, ruin your reed or mouthpiece, and can just plain feel messy and gross on your instrument. If you suffer from chapped lips, utilize a moisturizing lip scrub (especially during the winter) and make sure you're hydrating regularly. Vitamin E may also help to alleviate chapped lips. You can put lip balm or another skin protectant on when you go to bed at night – but never, ever put anything on your lips when you'll be playing your instrument.
Whether you play tin whistle or recordari, these tips will help you master your instrument – and lessen the stress of learning a new and complex instrument.