I find I can only really practice for 20 minutes max before my lips and jaws start to go numb and this makes me a bit worried for my stamina for my exam...any suggestions on how to build that up so I can practice for a bit longer?

I always begin my practice with long notes and then play scales and then my pieces. I've also tried playing the piece through doing everything but blowing to ensure better knowledge of keys etc. Any suggestions appreciated.

1 Answer 1


There are a couple things that spring to mind:

- Check that you're playing correctly.

If you're straining yourself unnecessarily, then you will become tired much more quickly and will therefore play for less time. The comment that makes me bring this up is your description of how your lips / jaw get numb. To me that indicates that you're clenching with your jaw, which isn't good. As for the lips, I've found that with playing any instrument for a length of time, your lips just get tired and cannot hold the embouchure; perhaps sore feeling but not "numb".

I would check with either an oboist or an oboe / woodwind instructor and have them watch how you are playing. Describe what you feel and see their response.

- Play more often.

This one is just one of those age-old axioms. If you want the chops, you gotta play. Simple as that. Granted, if you can only play 20 minutes at a time, it is useless to try and force you to play longer - you'll only develop bad technique that way. Instead, I would recommend doing what many players do: having at least two daily practice sessions.

The first "practice" session is really just a warmup where you focus on fundamentals: long tones, articulations, scales, range, etc. You do that in the morning at a convenient time. The second session is later in the day, in the afternoon sometime. Now that you're already warmed up, after a couple scales you're ready to do hardcore technique / excerpt work.

The last "warm down" session is optional - some people / performers swear by it and will nay-say anyone who says differently. I've known both types. A trombonist friend of mine warms down for about 15min. after every gig / rehearsal regardless of how long he's been playing. I myself have never needed a "warm down", so it's one of those things.

I don't know when your exam is, but remember that when it comes to instrument pedagogy, you can't cram. You either have the technique or you don't, and with oboe certainly, there is no faking.

Just do your best preparation work possible, practice and play daily, and when it comes time, don't warm up too much before you play - it'll kill your chops and you'll sound bad.

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    I would add: make sure you're breathing correctly and learning breath control. Almost invariably beginners try to control the sound with their mouth; later on they learn breath control and the jaw&lips are suddenly free of effort. Aug 14, 2013 at 17:12
  • Good thought Carl - though I personally prefer to use the term "breath management." You're right - it is very important (especially in the case of the oboe!) I didn't mention it expressly because it is usually something touched upon when meeting with an oboist or instructor. Aug 14, 2013 at 18:18
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    Swim a mile every day. This will improve your lung capacity and loosen up your whole body. You don't have to swim the same stroke, just get in a lap pool, use different strokes and mix it up, change every 5 to 10 laps: breaststroke with frog kick, Aussie Crawl, backstroke, then add a kick board. Also try the kick board between your legs and pull with your arms. Allow 45 minutes to 1 hour.
    – filzilla
    Aug 14, 2013 at 23:38
  • Thanks for that. yes, I get that I can't cram for this - especially as my intention is to be a musician and play this gorgeous instrument well. My exam is in November. I've learnt my pieces but I'm not playing them well enough yet. Love the idea of playing two practice sessions and think I'll try that. Will check with my teacher about the breathing/embouchure but I have been focusing on using my diaphragm to control rather than my mouth. As for swimming - unfortunately I can't swim :-) but I walk pretty regularly. Thanks again for the advice. Very helpful.. :-)
    – user6241
    Aug 21, 2013 at 9:53
  • Using your diaphragm is physically impossible. It's a mis-statement by many musicians. Your diaphragm moves involuntarily like your heart, stomach, and liver. Look into "The Breathing Gym" by Pat Sheridan and Sam Pilafian. It contains many breathing exercises that will dramatically improve your efficiency and breath management. Aug 21, 2013 at 16:29

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