I’ve given the introduction and transcript below in full. Any thoughts I myself have appear as footnotes. These footnotes are the purpose of recording these “Five Tips”, so that I can reflect on how and why I’m learning the oboe.
- Do you want to pick up the piano again or learn the violin? Do you wish that you could play a piece of music in front of your friends and family1?
- Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti CBE was interviewed on Woman's Hour2 in June and she had some fantastic tips for learning an instrument.
- Watch the video to hear her five pieces of advice and take heart from her message: "For anybody learning an instrument, I know it can be difficult, trust me I know it can be difficult3. But I would say persevere because it will never be a waste of time4 in your life."
The Five Tips5
- Start off with patience and slowly6 – don’t expect7 to run a race before you can walk.
- Do your research about the best possible teaching. Those early few experiences are really so important for several reasons:-
So the right teaching and learning environment can allow you to establish those two things.
- To get your physicality and therefore your physical connection to your instrument as natural and as pure as it possibly can be, and
- You want to fall deep in love with music very quickly.
- Look at all the fundamental building blocks of music away from your instrument and make that a part of your initial learning of music. So, things like how melody, harmony and rhythm work. There are so many ways that you can learn about those things that don’t relate to all the complicated things of learning your instrument, but they will make your musicianship so much better and therefore make playing your instrument more fun.
- Get into the habit of practicing little but often. Frequently, people have one lesson a week, and they will just pick up their instrument the day before the lesson and that is very counter-productive. Because what’s happening every time you practice is that your hands are developing tiny little muscle-memory ideas for how to get around your instrument. If you do that for just a short period of time but do it every day you’ll actually improve much faster and therefore playing your instrument will be much more fun in a shorter space of time.
- Immerse yourself in as much music as possible. That can be trying to go to live performances, listening to music in all kinds of different forms and trying to explore as much as you possibly can – find the sound that you really love and that makes you feel something. It’s going to help you to remember what it feels like to hear that music and be moved by it and then you’ll try to put that emotion into your instrument. For me that was the biggest inspiration when I started playing – I was so moved by music; I wanted then to make other people feel that.
See BBC - Nicola Benedetti - My five tips for learning an instrument.
- I suppose public performance is important, though communal playing without an audience might do.
- In the absence of television for evening entertainment, middle- and upper-class Victorian families seemed to “enjoy” (at least) singing round the piano.
- So, the intended listeners are adults learning – or re-learning – an instrument.
- This is repeated, and doubtless sincerely.
- The “difficulties” are various, and worth recording sometime, but may presumably be mitigated by following the “Five Tips”.
- So, playing the instrument must be useful or pleasurable in itself, rather than merely a means to an end.
- Transcribed by me from the video.
- Not absolutely verbatim, but pretty close!
- This tip is of less use to me than the others as I’ve “started off” on a number of occasions.
- But “patience” is always a virtue. As she said in her introduction, learning an instrument is always hard, and it’s easy to give up. My latest “streak” seems to have been going since October 2014 – since Julia and I joined the Enigma Ensemble, so, a fair while now, though I’ve only been aiming to practice an hour a day – rarely achieved – since I re-started lessons in September 2018.
- Indeed – but it mustn’t be underestimated just how much effort is required to master an instrument and to play it acceptable – so that those rather fancifully suggested as your audience might actually enjoy the experience.
- Nicola Benedetti’s own instrument – the violin – always sounds out of tune when played solo by non-professionals (to my ear at least; and it’s difficult to hear yourself properly unless you make a recording).
- The oboe sounds “reedy” unless played by a professional. Taking up the challenge above – of hearing what you sound like to others – I’ve put a bunch of excruciating items on my Music Page.
- Finally, we must remember just how long it is to mastery of anything – that 10,000 hours takes a long time to elapse, especially if you can’t even manage an hour a day! As of mid-April 2020 I’ve managed some 925 hours in my adult life (I’ve been recording time since June 2005, so maybe there was some time before that, but it didn’t involve regular practice; the average since I started recording time has been just under 12.5 minutes a day on account of considerable gaps when I hardly played at all, or only managed 10 minute sessions).
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)