Three Things to Practice in High School

Today’s post is somewhat related to Friday’s article on All-State etudes.  One thing I neglected to mention in that post is that I have seen a tendency among high school (and some college) players to “cram” before an audition or performance, practicing only their required etudes or solos to the exclusion of everything else.  While this may – emphasis on “may” – produce short term results, for those players interested in pursuing the horn at the college level and beyond, a more balanced practice plan is a much better way to go.  Strive to be as well rounded a player as possible, working on both your strengths and weaknesses a little bit every day.  Over time, your general ability as a musician will improve, making it much easier to learn solos, etudes, and other repertoire.  For serious high school horn players who may already be doing these things, bravo on your hard work, and keep it up!  If you’re looking to take the next step as a player and get a leg up on your horn playing in college, make sure you’re including the following in your daily practice.  These areas are often neglected – even by talented players – but they really do have to be mastered to advance beyond a certain level.  My advice to high school students with college aspirations is to start working on these skills today!

  • Scales: The building blocks – practice them every day. Work in variety and creativity to keep things fresh, but never stop practicing your scales and arpeggios.  Books like Luciano L’Abbate’s Scales and Arpeggios for horn and John Ericson’s Ultimate Horn Technique are great resources.  Whether your state requires it or not for All-State auditions, learn them from memory.  I don’t know of any college music programs that will let you get away with not knowing your scales by memory, so start working on them now.
  • Transposition: This is another skill that it’s better to work on sooner rather than later.  There are a number of practical reasons to learn transposition, but the bottom line is that you have to know how to transpose to be a horn player.  If you’re a music education student you still need to know how to transpose.  Don’t just take my word for it – check out this great post by Bruce Hembd at Horn Matters.  Not sure where to start and feeling a little overwhelmed about transposition?  It’s ok, and you are not alone.  Start slowly, and practice transposing a little bit every day, perhaps using a practice plan like this one.
  • Low Range: Lets face it, “higher, faster, louder” is exciting, and talented players often end up playing high parts throughout their high school years.  To some extent this can’t be avoided, but if you really want to set yourself apart as a young horn player work on your low range.  There are a number of great resources out there for improving the low range, including Randy Gardner’s Mastering the Horn’s Low Register John Ericson’s Ultimate Low Horn, and Marvin McCoy’s 46 Progressive Exercises for Low Horn.  I have used these books personally and in my teaching, and highly recommend them all.  I especially like using the McCoy for younger players as it presents a systematic way of learning to read bass clef in both old and new notation.

N.B. The humorous, but all-too-often true, comic by Joshua Wells seen at the beginning of this post is linked from the website oddquartet.com. 

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