Friday Review: Playing Natural Horn Today and Playing Descant and Triple Horns, by John Ericson

John Ericson, Associate Professor of Horn at Arizona State University and co-creator of Horn Matters, has recently published two new books, Playing Natural Horn Today and Playing Descant and Triple Horns. I had the opportunity to preview early versions of these publications, and was very excited to see them hit the market. As with other publications from Horn Notes Edition, both books are well written in a practical and straightforward manner. Quoting from the sales page for Playing Natural Horn Today, this book “…is focused toward introducing the natural horn effectively to players who already play the valved horn and wish to learn the older instrument.” To that end, a variety of information is included, ranging from historical background to selecting an appropriate mouthpiece (cover image linked from hornnotes.com). Numerous exercises by hand horn virtuosi from the past have been newly edited and included to aid in the development of musicality and technique.  In the  Preface, Ericson points out several benefits that modern horn players can gain from natural horn study: development of accuracy and of the ear, improved stopped horn technique on modern horn, and a better understanding of musical style. I wholeheartedly agree, and would also add that playing natural horn can be really fun! Playing on the much lighter instrument actually makes some things easier than they are on the modern horn, and for me at least there’s something attractive about playing music from the past on the instrument (or a replica) for which it was intended. Ericson has also produced a very nice promotional video with demonstrations of several musical examples from the text.

Playing Descant and Triple Horns is a revised edition of Ericson’s previous publication, Playing High Horn.  Much of the original content is still here, although some of it has been reworked (cover image linked from hornnotes.com). Whether you are new to descant and triple horns or have performed on them for years, this book has something for you. Descant and triple horns don’t come with an owner’s manual, and it can be difficult even for an experienced player to figure out some of the idiosyncrasies of these instruments.  If you’ve just purchased or are thinking about purchasing a descant or triple, this book is a must-have. Two of my favorite features of this book are the fingering charts in the appendix and the numerous practical tips based on professional experience. These suggestions are found in shaded boxes, which sets them apart from the rest of text. As with the natural horn book, Playing Descant and Triple Horns includes a promotional video. It’s quite clear from the playing demonstrations that Ericson knows what he’s doing!

My final comments on these two very fine books concerns their format. Both are offered in electronic format, and can be purchased and downloaded in a matter of minutes.  The PDF files are very clear, and display well on both tablet devices and standard computer monitors. Individual pages or the entire text can be printed for use in lessons and practicing. The prices are very reasonable for books of this type, which should make them appealing to students as well as teachers.

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