At the beginning of September I decided to take a break from my regular warm-up and maintenance routine – Douglas Hill’s Warm-ups and Maintenance Sessions for the Horn Player – and began working on the Standley Routine. Going in, I decided to commit to it for one month before making any long term decisions. If you are not familiar with the Standley Routine, here’s a brief summary, excerpted from the previous post linked above.
From 1949 to 1957, Forrest Standley performed as Principal Horn of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and later taught for many years at what is now Carnegie-Mellon University. Two of his former students, son Gene Standley of the Columbus Symphony, and H. Stephen Hager of Southwest Texas State University, have made available a revised and edited version of their teacher’s warm-up and daily routine. Although the Standley Routine is fairly lengthy when compared to other daily routines – one hour and forty minutes according to the original preface – the level of thoroughness and organization is unparalleled.
Before getting to my conclusions about the routine, an explanation for the switch is in order. There were a few big reasons why I thought a change could be helpful to my playing, and here they are in no particular order.
- Endurance: After returning from a wonderful week at the 47th International Horn Symposium, I had a difficult time getting back in shape for some upcoming solo, chamber, and orchestral performances. As anyone who has attended a large conference like the IHS Symposium (or ITG Conference or ITA Festival) can attest, the irony of these events is that you don’t really have time to practice very much. I managed to get the horn on my face every day during the symposium, with the exception of the day I departed, but resuming a full practice regimen upon returning was a challenge. I did what I normally do to build endurance, which is add five minutes of practice time to my routine every other day, but wasn’t totally satisfied with the results. Having had some prior experience with the Standley Routine, and having heard that it was good for building endurance, I decided to give it a shot.
- Concentration: As with the first reason, this one probably has very little to do with what I was practicing, and more to do with how I was practicing it. Nevertheless, after many years of playing my regular routine on a daily basis, I began to notice my focus and attention wandering during the first hour of practice – precisely when they needed to be most present. I should state for the record that this doesn’t mean there are any shortcomings in design or content with Hill’s routine, nor does it indicate that I had mastered it so well as to be bored. Nothing could be further from the truth! Still, I thought changing routines might help me break out of this habit.
- Consistency: One of the strengths of Hill’s routine is that it covers everything, within a reasonable amount of time. I knew that if I played the full warm-up plus routine I had touched on pretty much every technique required of modern horn players. But, over time I began to think that maybe it might be useful for me to forego some of that variety in favor of more similar patterns which emphasize the same basic techniques. For example, the Standley Routine doesn’t include any stopped horn, multiple tonguing, or lip trill patterns (Hill does), but instead presents four types of exercises (scales, arpeggios, endurance, and overtone) in every key. Is it a comprehensive routine? No, not in the sense of Hill’s Warm-Ups and Maintenance Sessions, but it is very thorough.
Ok, so what has the past month with the Standley Routine been like? On the whole, it’s been very productive, and I’ve noticed improvement in all of the above mentioned areas. It is taxing, especially the endurance exercises, but seems to be exactly what I needed at this point in my career. The entire routine takes me about 65-70 minutes to complete, although instead of performing the arpeggio exercises both slurred and tongued (as indicated), I alternate articulations each day. In addition, I use a tonic drone, and play the endurance exercises on the F horn. I would also recommend supplementing with various etudes and/or exercises to cover stopped horn, multiple tonguing, and lip trills. Recently I’ve been working through Robert Ward’s 30 Etudes for Stopped Horn, which I picked up at the IHS Symposium. It’s a fantastic collection of stopped horn studies; look for a more detailed review in the coming weeks.
I plan to continue with the Standley Routine for the immediate future, although at some point I will probably return to Hill’s Warm-Ups and Maintenance Sessions. To be clear, they are both great routines, and I am not necessarily advocating for one over the other. What I think is important, though, is that we periodically take stock of our daily routines, and consider trying other patterns and approaches.