Etude Talk: Interview for the HornZone

Kyle Hayes, Memphis-area freelancer and editor of the International Horn Society’s HornZone, recently contacted me and asked if I’d be willing to share a few thoughts about etudes (image at right linked from the HornZone page at www.hornsociety.org). I was glad to do so, and the following is the result of our conversation. It should be appearing very soon on the actual HornZone page, but with Kyle’s approval I am also posting the interview here. After you read this, be sure to check out all of the other great content at the HornZone! N.B. I have done some minor editing of the text I submitted to Kyle, and added the relevant hyperlinks to the etude lists at the end.

Etude Talk: Interview for the Hornzone, International Horn Society

Hornzone: How do you know what each etude is trying to teach?

James Boldin: In some cases – Kopprasch, for example – it’s pretty obvious what the composer is focusing on in a particular study. It might be arpeggios, scales, various kinds of articulations, or a combination thereof. In others – an extended concert etude, for instance – the focus might be on several different things at once, or it might shift during the course of the etude. In that case, it’s beneficial to concentrate on one section at a time, working out the specific difficulties in each one. Looking at the question from a broader perspective, the best way to improve at interpreting a composer’s intentions is to study music history and theory as well as take private lessons. This will train your ear and eye to recognize patterns and see the “big picture.”

HZ: How do you practice etudes? (Compare Kopprasch to Maxime-Alphonse.)

JB: I don’t know that I would necessarily practice Kopprasch or Maxime-Alphonse differently. I guess I’ve never really thought of it that way. One time-tested method that seems to work for practicing just about anything requiring speed and/or technique is to proceed s-l-o-w-l-y, gradually increasing tempo. The results may be almost imperceptible at first, but it really does work. Another effective way to practice is to spend more time on the difficult passages, and less time on the things you can already play. That might seem like an obvious statement, but students often fall into the trap of playing something over and over that they can already play and call it “practice.” There is, of course, a time and place to play through entire works without stopping – during the final stages of preparing for an audition, concert, or recital – but during the learning process I think it’s more efficient to focus on the challenges. In both Kopprasch and Maxime-Alphonse, there will be passages that you can execute easily on the first time through, and also passages that will need to be picked apart and practiced over and over to achieve proficiency. It is those difficult passages that should occupy the majority of your practice time. Playing through the entire etude should be done only once the difficult passages have been more or less mastered. Some unoriginal, but still highly effective, methods I use are mouthpiece buzzing unfamiliar/awkward intervals, slurring a tongued passage and vice versa, changing/alternating the rhythms, and working backwards from the end of a difficult measure or group of measures.

HZ: If we aren’t students but we still want to practice (adult amateurs), how do we know when we have studied an etude well enough to know that it’s time to move on?

JB: This is a great question! If you’re like me, when you first started taking lessons you knew it was time to move on to another etude when your teacher said so. As I progressed through lessons at the graduate level, and certainly once I got out of school, I began to take more responsibility for the repertoire I covered, looking into as many different kinds of etudes as I could, and working out of several books at once. The longer I’ve been out of school and away from regular lessons, the more I’ve had to rely on my own judgment about what to study and for how long. I think as long as you are having fun and not getting too bored or frustrated you should stick with an etude or series of etudes for as long as you like. Variety is good too. As great as Kopprasch is, horn players can’t subsist on it alone. Try combining lyrical etudes, Concone for example, with technical ones like Kopprasch. It’s also fun and motivating to set personal goals for yourself, and then to move on afterwards. For instance, you might pick a future date and say “I will prepare this etude to the best of my ability by then and move on to another one.” One reason I started video recording the Kopprasch etudes was to give myself a tangible goal to work towards in my preparation of each study.

HZ: In the case of professionals that are just keeping themselves in shape, do you study a few every day or every week and then move on?

JB:  Yes, similar to what I said in the previous question. I will also pull out etudes I’ve worked on in the past and use them for maintenance or diagnostic purposes. I also like to rotate through etudes I’ve studied previously and new ones. They can either be new publications I’m looking at for review or teaching purposes, or classic studies that I just haven’t gotten around to yet.

HZ: In the case of etudes like Gallay’s 12 grands études brillantes, Op.43, since they aren’t designed as a training tool but for performing, how would you approach them?

JB:  For the technical problems I would prepare them in much the same way as any other etude, and definitely break them up into smaller sections. Musically speaking they could be approached like an unaccompanied solo, going for maximum contrast and expression. You might also take a few more liberties with tempo, including pauses for dramatic effect as well. I really like Michel Garcin-Marrou’s edition of these, published by Gérard Billaudot. He includes some great information for historically informed performances of Gallay’s music.

HZ: When it comes to practicing etudes to help you learn music and excerpts, how do you know what to pick? (Example, Opening to Ein Heldenleben, Shostakovich 5, low tutti part in mvt 1, Beethoven 9, 4th horn solo.)

JB: It’s a really good idea to make your own exercises or etudes out of the difficult passages in the orchestral and/or solo literature. A great example of doing this can be found in Randy Gardner’s book Mastering the Horn’s Low Register, published by International Opus. In addition, you want to keep practicing a variety of different kinds of etudes; Kopprasch, Maxime-Alphonse, Reynolds, Gallay, etc. They all are good for different things, and the more etude books you have experience with the better you’ll be at choosing appropriate studies for yourself or your students. For orchestral music specifically, Maxime-Alphonse has a few studies, Franz Strauss has a set of concert etudes on themes from Beethoven, and more recently, Brett Miller has a created a series of new etudes based on orchestral music by Brahms, Strauss, Mahler, and Russian composers. These are available digitally through the International Horn Society’s Online Music Sales, www.hornsociety.org/marketplace/online-library. Jeff Agrell published a great index to technical etudes in the October, 2007 issue of The Horn Call. The list organizes etudes into twenty-seven categories, ranging from accuracy to echo horn. Ricardo Matosinhos has also created a website dedicated to horn etudes at www.hornetudes.com. It’s a wonderful resource, very detailed and easy to use, and he updates it regularly.

HZ: What etudes would you recommend to be learned by 7th/8th graders, 9/10th graders, 11/12th as a part of their band programs (for the directors to assign for individual practice/playing tests)?

JB: There are a number of good etude books available today, including new editions of classic collections as well as newly composed studies. I think the best approach is to work out of at least a couple of different books at the same time, although there are several one volume collections that cover a variety of issues. Here are just a few of many possibilities. Directors should feel free to adjust or modify things depending on the ability level of each student.

7th/8th Grade:

9th/10th Grade:

11th/12th Grade:

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