During some practice hours with my oboe I have the problem that everything in front of my eyes get black, and I have to stop at once, or I would become unstable and fall down. Why? Is there anything I can do against this?
Sounds like my early days on the oboe. I’ve been playing the oboe now for 15 years, mostly as a hobby, but I do consider it to be my main instrument. The oboe is a difficult beast and you will no doubt be short of breath very often, however you shouldn’t be passing out in the middle of practice. Here are my suggestions:
- Reeds. If they are not already, they will become the most frustrating part of your oboe experience. Most of the time, when an artist blames their tools it’s a sign of laziness. For double reed players, blaming your tool (the reed) is generally the majority of your problem. However, to be a good oboist, you will eventually need to control the reeds (by making your own).
- Check your reeds. Are they air-tight on the sides? Are they beat up? Do they need to be thinner or thicker (less or more cane in the heart of the reed)? Is the opening between the tips collapsed, or is there room for air to flow? Is the reed still moist enough? (Human saliva actually dries out reeds; be sure to always have a small container of fresh water in which to soak your reeds.)
- If you don’t already make your own reeds, I highly recommend watching some videos or reading some articles on oboe reed making. Just the knowledge can help you figure out what the problems with a particular reed are. Here is one fairly good video: http://spider.georgetowncollege.edu/music/burnette/mus215/reedoboe.htm Browse around for videos, articles, etc. that give details about reed making (not just the overview). And here is an article:
- Air supply. Learn to ration what you have, and how to improve what you have.
- The first woodwind I learned to play was the clarinet; a year later I started learning the oboe. My lungs have the same air capacity despite which instrument I am playing, but the oboe can only take in so much air relative to the clarinet. It's like putting your thumb over a hose; same amount of flow, far less space so the pressure sky rockets.
- Play around with how much air you send through the oboe in a whole note at forte. Can you keep the same loudness and length while using more or less air? Can you play an entire scale in whole notes at forte? What about at piano? Try starting each note at piano, crescendo into forte and decrescendo back to piano by the end of the fourth beat. This exercise is also good for learning how to play at various dynamics, whether or not you find it helpful with your black out issues. It might take some time, but practicing this even five minutes a day should help out quite a bit.
- Meet up with another oboe player in person, not over the Internet (or phone).
- Switch reeds and play on your own instrument. Is your reed more difficult to play, or easier? If you look at both reeds in detail, can you see a difference and how that difference might affect your playing?
- Ask your oboe friend to explain their embrasure in detail. The correct embrasure for an oboe player is fairly difficult and requires quite a bit of practice. While it is definitely possible to play the oboe beautifully with the incorrect embrasure, doing so takes more effort than necessary.
- If you only have access to a band teacher, but not a specific oboe teacher, get some books to augment your learning. Anything entitled “oboe method” or “etudes for oboe” will probably be good. Even saxophone books can be helpful, but mostly for improving fingerings (the embrasures are too different). Band teachers are great, but they don’t have the time (or frequently the experience) to help with the subtleties that learning the oboe demands.
- Stay in shape. By that I mean exercise, don’t just eat right. Like with singing, your body is as much as part of your overall sound as your oboe. The air starts in your lungs, is supported by your core, moves through your esophagus and out your mouth before entering the oboe; more than half the air’s journey is inside you. It takes a strong core to hold the correct posture and to have enough air support. (A tight core is how an oboist is supposed to stay in tune; not by pulling out on the reed. Although this is far easier said than done.) Strong lungs will undoubtedly help with the blacking out problem and, again, come with exercise. Cardio and core strengthening are the best for wind instruments. For me, swimming and Pilates works best, however I recommend whatever kind of exercise you can get yourself to do regularly.
If, with time, none of this is helping, or your symptoms become suddenly worse, do seek medical attention. Passing out while playing is naturally dangerous for you, but it is also dangerous for your oboe and therefore for your wallet. Dropping an oboe from even two feet is no laughing matter and can cost hundreds of dollars in repairs (if not more).
Take care of yourself; without you, your oboe can't make a sound.
I think you don't have built your stamina just yet and you're pushing yourself too far.
- Take it a bit slower. Don't play for long periods and don't blow that hard.
- Try to do some stamina exercises on the oboe.
- Play a bit, take a small break and play some more then
- Like Edouard said, it might be good to go see a doctor.
But most importantly, if you see that you are fainting after playing too much/hard, try to play softer and for smaller periods of time until you are ready for a more extreme playing
Oboe is pretty much the wind instrument using the least air and the most pressure. So your problem is pretty similar to "doctor, if I try inflating tin cans for hours, I have the problem that everything in front of my eyes get black, and I have to stop at once, or I would become unstable and fall down."
Any sane doctor would tell you "stop doing that, then". Which means that you need to find a doctor acquainted with wind instrument players, because "stop doing that" is pretty much a last resort.
One thing you might want to tackle sooner than other oboists is permanent/continuous breathing (I don't know the proper English technical term for it), which will take off permanent breath pressure from your lungs and thus will help alleviating the problem.
It's a rather advanced technique taking a lot of practice but it would seem that the payoff in your case might be larger than for many others. It might mean being able to continue playing at all.