A Transposition Practice Plan

This summer I wrote a post called “Three Things You Should Practice Every Day,” and the three techniques I included were lip trills, stopped horn, and multiple tonguing.  Thinking back on that post, I really should have included transposition as well since, like the three techniques above, it really is something you want to be totally secure on in your playing. Besides, it’s just a part of good overall musicianship. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked to read a church hymn in C, or to read a trombone part in a brass ensemble.  Not to mention that it will also help you in reading orchestral scores.  The real key to getting comfortable in transpositions is to simply practice them regularly.  I recommend using a fairly simple exercise or etude, like No. 1 (excerpt shown below) from Giuseppe Concone’s Lyrical Studies, transcribed by John F. Sawyer (The Brass Press/Editions Bim, 1972/1999).

You don’t have to use the entire exercise – rather you should choose something that you can easily manage playing in a couple of different transpositions every day.  As you become more proficient, change exercises, or include more of your present exercise.  I also recommend using a simple chart like the one shown below to make sure that you cover all of the possible transpositions over a period of a week or so.

This chart includes two transpositions for each day of the week, one high and one low.  For some of the more unusual keys, you may want to shorten your present exercise to just a few lines or so, while for the more common keys you can play for longer periods and practice sight-reading in those keys.  If the alto transpositions go too high, switch to basso for those measures and then continue in alto once the range returns to normal. Feel free to change around the order as you wish – the point is to put in a few minutes everyday so that when you see those transpositions they become more or less automatic.  If you aren’t sure about how to transpose some of these keys, check out this excellent reference and educational game by Ricardo Matosinhos.

Busy December and Interesting Transposition

A while ago I mentioned that October was a packed month for me. Well, after a brief respite in November, December has arrived in full swing with lots of upcoming performances.  I’m looking forward to all of this playing, but I have had to be especially efficient in my practicing to make sure I have everything ready to go for this month.  Here’s a rundown of what’s happening.

In addition to these performances there are the usual final exams to be graded, brass juries, and a performance with an ad hoc orchestra at a large church in Shreveport, LA.  The Rapides Symphony concert was this past Sunday afternoon, and went very well.  In addition to several traditional holiday  selections, we played Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, and Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks. I was playing second horn on this concert, and had a great time.  There are some really nice parts in the Handel, and the first horn part in particular can be quite taxing.  RSO Principal Horn Rod Lauderdale did a fantastic job.

As I was practicing the part last week I noticed an interesting peculiarity, and it prompted some discussion in the horn section at the first rehearsal.  Looking at this excerpt from the second horn part (this part is downloaded from the IMSLP, but the orchestra’s parts had the same peculiarity), do you notice anything unusual?  Hint: The part is for Horn in C.

Notice the key signature?  A bit odd for Horn in C, and considering that the whole piece is in the key of D major, one would expect the horn parts to be for Horn in D.  This wasn’t a huge problem, but I did have to spend a bit more time working out the transpositions, as reading Horn in C with two sharps in the key didn’t quite lay under my fingers as well as regular C horn.  I’m not really sure how these parts ended up being printed in this transposition, and I’m positive that the original parts would have been written for natural horns in D.  In discussing this with the other horn players we came to the conclusion that this was most likely a publisher’s misguided attempt to put the parts in the “original” key – since the score was notated at concert pitch (C), they probably figured that the horn parts should be in C as well, regardless of the actual key of the piece.

Has anyone else out there encountered a similar situation with either this piece or others like it?  Can anyone offer an alternative explanation for notating the part in such a way?

Do You Really Need to Know How to Transpose?

I’ve seen this discussion come up frequently among horn players on social media, and have been considering it from a couple of different perspectives.

On the “Yes, you definitely need to know how to transpose” side, here are some thoughts to consider.

  1. The bottom line is that yes, it is a required skill for professionals and aspiring professionals.
  2. It provides a connection to hand-horn playing and music/composers of the past.
  3. For conductors, music educators, etc. transposing is a necessary skill for score reading and analysis.
  4. Many orchestral parts are not available in transposed versions, so if you want to perform in an orchestra you need to be able to read these parts.

And on the “Well, maybe you don’t always have to know how to transpose” side of the coin:

  • For players in community orchestras and other similar ensembles, having to read non-transposed parts can be a barrier to enjoyment and engagement in those groups.
  • Not necessary to be a “good” horn player, meaning, one can be a competent player in terms of range, technique, and musicality without having this particular skill.
  • I have observed  some condescension towards horn players who haven’t yet mastered transposition or who question how necessary it is today. This attitude does not help make the case for transposition.
  • Can be a difficult skill to master once out of school, especially without a private instructor, and a method to learn it.
  • Can be seen as an archaic tradition, without much connection to modern valved horn playing. *I don’t agree with this view, but have seen it expressed.

All this can be confusing to impressionable music students, so if I could offer one piece of advice it would be to go ahead and start learning to transpose now, it will ultimately make your life easier as a horn player. However, if you’ve taken several years off and are returning to horn playing, don’t feel bad about not remembering all the intricacies of transposition. There are some transposed parts available in the orchestral repertoire, and if you can get your hands on them they will probably do just fine. Should you feel motivated to add transposing to your skill set, there are fortunately lots of great resources available today. Here are a few of my favorites:

I also have a Transposition Practice Plan available on this site, feel free to check it out.

More Warm-ups and Daily Routines!

I’m overdue in posting about some new daily routines. In this post (and others) I mentioned the benefit of periodically re-evaluating the daily warm-up and/or practice routine, and the summer months are a perfect time to do so. As with mouthpieces and horns, there is no one perfect example; rather, lots of options and subtle variations to explore. Here are some of those, with dates and publisher information, where available. To read previous posts in this series, see the links at the end of this post.

Horn Warm-ups and Beyond the Warm-up, by Bob Ashworth, Emerson Edition 2011 and 2012

Bob Ashworth has been Principal Horn of Opera North in Leeds, UK since 1978. Both of these slim volumes present several traditional and unique exercises, the first collection dedicated to “consolidating basic techniques and achieving a focused sound,” and the second containing “a collection of ideas and exercises based on fundamental elements of horn playing.” Slurred and legato tongued patterns in the middle range are the primary material in Horn Warm-ups, although the later exercises include staccato variations and higher transpositions. After this thorough grounding in fundamentals, several operatic and orchestral melodies follow. As the title suggests, Beyond the Warm-up expands upon the concepts presented in the first volume, including more variations in style and articulation. Many of the exercises are based on common excerpts found in the orchestral and operatic repertoire.


20 Minute Warm-Up Routine for French Horn, by Michael Davis, Hip-Bone Music

This routine is part of a series of publications for trumpet, horn, trombone, and tuba, and includes an excellent play-along CD with Chris Komer of the New Jersey Symphony. It contains some great stuff, consisting of fundamental exercises that are common across all the brass instruments: lip slurs, broken arpeggios, articulation studies, etc. In my experience, playing the entire routine takes a bit longer than 20 minutes, especially if one takes brief rests periodically. Many of the exercises begin on the open horn and work their way down, which might be a little high for some players to begin right away. In that case I would recommend that they be played from the bottom of the page to the top.


Warm-up Variations for Horn, Op. 94 by Richard Goldfaden, RM Williams Publishing

Mr. Goldfaden has been a member of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra since 1985, and previously held positions in the Toledo Symphony Orchestra and numerous groups in Mexico. His unique take on the daily routine consists of an 8-measure theme in C major, followed by 30 variations (plus a coda) which take the player through multiple styles, techniques (stopped horn, multiple tonguing, glissando, etc.), and degrees of complexity. Several of the variations incorporate motives from the orchestral repertoire, including works by Beethoven, Brahms, and Rimsky-Korsakov. He notes in the preface:

The purpose of the Warm-up Variations is to take the player from a cold lip state to being fully warmed up. It is especially useful after a day or two off the horn. The warm-up starts very comfortably, then gradually widens in range and dynamics. A generous amount of rests are used to prevent fatigue and to keep breathing comfortable.

If you’re looking for a musical yet thorough approach to the daily routine, try these variations.


The Hackleman Routine, by Martin Hackleman, edited by Natalie Brooke Higgins, Alias Brass Company, 2018

A member of the faculty at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance since 2012, Professor Hackleman is highly regarded as a performer and teacher. Most of the material in this collection was created by the author, although there are a few patterns borrowed from (or based on) diverse sources such as Caesar LaMonaca (with whom Hackleman studied), Herbert L. Clarke, Robert Levy, and  Ottorino Respighi. Editor Dr. Natalie Higgins has done an excellent job collecting and formatting these into a unified whole. I don’t want to give too much away, but this collection is really worth checking out because it gives some insight into the author’s teaching and performing philosophy. There is a tremendous amount of food for thought here, some of which will challenge traditional thinking about warming up and horn pedagogy in general.


Daily Studies, compiled and edited by Caesar LaMonaca, published in The Horn Call, February 2017

A longtime member of the Houston Symphony, Caesar LaMonaca (1924-2012) taught horn at the University of Houston and later at Montana State University. Martin Hackleman is among his many former students, and one can certainly see the similarities between their daily practice materials. LaMonaca credits numerous influences in the development of these materials, including Bruno Jaenicke, Robert Schulze, H. L. Clarke, Anton Horner, and John Swallow. The author suggests “a light warm-up before playing the studies-a more extensive one when doing the higher keys,” though the first few exercises could effectively serve as a warm-up as well. Long tones, scale studies, broken arpeggios, breath attacks, and diatonic interval studies in all keys are among the many useful patterns to be found in this free (to IHS members) resource.


The Warm-up: A Basic and Practical Guide to Warming Up, by Wayne Lu, Veritas Musica, 2007

Though his name may not be as familiar as others on this list, Wayne Lu has established a multifaceted career as a performer, composer, and educator. His extensive list of compositions includes works for solo horn, horn in chamber music, horn ensemble, and many more. These are published by Veritas Musica Publishing, which he co-founded. In the Introduction to his very fine collection of warm-up materials, Lu credits A. Kendall Betts, Herb Winslow, John Cerminaro, and many others for their influence on his pedagogy. That being said, the ideas and patterns presented here are unique, and are accompanied by thorough written explanations. A Pre-Warm-Up section includes breathing exercises and aperture buzzing, followed by the Warm-Up proper. Although it consists entirely of slurred patterns, these could easily be adapted into tongued exercises. For more information about Wayne Lu and his music, refer to Laura Chicarello’s article “Becoming a ‘Complete Musician’ ‒ Wayne Lu’s 11 Exigent Etudes for Horn” in the February 2018 issue of The Horn Call.


Method for Trumpet Book 1: Warm-up Exercises and Etudes, by Anthony Plog, Balquhidder Music, 2003, 2015

Anthony Plog is internationally recognized as a composer, pedagogue, and performer, and is Professor of Music at the Musikhochschule in Freiburg, Germany. I first heard mention of this series of books on John Ericson’s Horn Notes Podcast, episode 28, during his interview with Gabriel Kovach, Principal Horn of the Phoenix Symphony. There are seven books in the series, covering numerous aspects of technique. I’ve not spent much time with the material in Book 1, but even a cursory glance through the pages was enough to recognize that this is not a typical brass warm-up. Each section contains a number of progressive exercises that can be combined with other sections, or played by themselves to craft an individually tailored warm-up. A series of 30 etudes follows, a logical extension of the preceding patterns. At $14.95, this volume and the others in the series are a bargain (also available as an Ebook).


Esercizi per Corno, by Corrado Maria Saglietti, IHS Online Music Sales

Corrado Saglietti joined the RAI National Symphony Orchestra of Turin, Italy in 1977, and has held the Principal Horn position in that orchestra since 1990. In addition to his distinguished performing career, he has published numerous solo and chamber works for brass and winds (see his list of works with Editions Bim, for example). His routine begins with middle register scale and arpeggio patterns to be played on the mouthpiece. And while many routines begin with long tones and/or lip slurs and save technical exercises until later, Saglietti includes slurred patterns in 16th notes right away. If performed correctly, this “flow study” approach to warming up can be effective. Later, traditional slurred and tongued patterns in the harmonic series are followed by a whole series of creative patterns covering the range of horn technique. This inventive collection is worth considering, and is very reasonably priced.


Other posts in this series:

Warm-Ups and Routines You May Not Know – Part I – Ifor James

Warm-ups and Routines You May Not Know – Part II – Dufrasne Routine

Warm-ups and Routines You May Not Know – Part III – Standley Routine

When to Change Routines

More Warm-Ups and Routines for Horn

The Daily Routine: A Modular Approach

Warm-ups and Routines Available Online

Changing Up the Practice Routine

 

 

 

 

 

 

Etude Reviews: Rhythm Kopprasch and Harmony Kopprasch, by Jeffrey Agrell

Earlier this summer I received complimentary copies of Rhythm Kopprasch and Harmony Koppraschtwo volumes in the Millenium Kopprasch series by Jeffrey Agrell, Professor of Horn at the University of Iowa. I’m a big fan of Professor Agrell’s work, and have reviewed several of his other publications, including Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians, Horn Technique, and The Creative Hornist.

The Millenium Kopprasch  series contains creative reinventions of classic Kopprasch Op. 6 etudes, made more applicable to the 21st-century hornist. The range and basic patterns of the original etudes are still there, but in modified forms. Rhythm Kopprasch incorporates mixed meters, unusual accent patterns, syncopation, and ties, while Harmony Kopprasch explores modes, awkward intervals, Blues scales, and more. Dynamics and tempo markings are intentionally left up to the player, although the markings in the original etudes would be a good place to start. Traditionally the Op. 6 etudes are used as a school of transposition, and to reinforce basic concepts of technique and sound production. More advanced etudes are necessary to develop technique further – Reynolds, Schuller, etc. Because the Millenium Kopprasch series breathes new life into the venerable Op. 6 studies, it opens up many possibilities for teachers and students. These are tough, and will push you beyond what is required for the original studies. But, they are also really fun to play. The patterns are much less familiar than the diatonic scales and arpeggios of the originals, and take far more concentration.

Here are some brief examples which demonstrate the kind of transformations you’ll find in these new Kopprasch studies. First is the original Kopprasch No. 3, Poco Allegro. *This is a pretty old recording from my Kopprasch video project, and the score is from the Hofmeister edition on IMSLP.

Next is the first half of the corresponding Etude No. 3 from Rhythm Kopprasch, shared here by permission of the author. The basics are still there, with the added fun of mixed meters and accent patterns.

And now the same thing from Harmony Kopprasch, which includes a variety of scales and arpeggios beyond diatonic major and minor (notice the helpful annotations for the source material) .

The quality engraving and attractive covers make for a very nice package, although a spiral binding would make the books a little easier to put on a music stand. As with all of Agrell’s publications, Rhythm Kopprasch and Harmony Kopprasch represent significant contributions to the existing horn literature. And, much like the original studies on which they are based, this series will continue to challenge (and possibly frustrate – but in a good way) hornists for years to come.

30 Day Practice Challenge

Looking for something to help you stay motivated over the holiday break? Consider taking a 30 Day Practice Challenge. I’m a big fan of these for physical fitness, and have completed several over the past year. In short, the idea is to perform a brief activity or series of activities each day for thirty consecutive days. Some of the challenges build in length and intensity, while others remain constant over the entire period. The challenge in that case is maintaining the routine. While not a substitute for a full fitness or (horn practice) routine, 30 Day Challenges are fun, and in my experience, really do provide benefits. Here are some more specific reasons for trying a 30 Day practice challenge:

  • Small, daily goals are easily achievable.
  • Fixed amount of time keeps you motivated to finish the challenge.
  • After 30 days you can change to a new challenge, or continue!
  • Excellent template for establishing positive habits.
  • If 30 Days seems too long (or too short), modify to a 15 Day or 60 Day challenge.

If these seem like compelling reasons, here are some ideas to get you started. These can and should be modified however you like. The important things to do are 1) pick something and 2) stick to it!

  • Minimum amount of practice time (example: 1 hour of practice per day)
  • One Kopprasch/Maxime-Alphonse/Other standard etude per day
  • Same melody, different transposition each day, cycle through all keys multiple times
  • One melody per day from Arban’s “The Art of Phrasing: 150 Classic and Popular Melodies,” Concone Lyrical Studies, or any other similar collection,
  • 10 minutes of long tones per day, varying ranges

This will likely be my last post of 2017, and I would like to wish all my readers Happy Holidays and best wishes for a healthy and prosperous start to 2018!

Brief Reviews: Solo Documentary Film, Snark Tuner, TuneUp System

Over the past academic year I have accumulated some new materials and equipment, but only recently sat down and put together some brief reviews.

Solo Documentary Film

First up is Solo, a unique documentary film from Limbus Production, written and directed by Přemysl Havlík. Here’s the trailer.

And here’s a description from the Limbus Production vimeo channel.

Documentary film about today’s best horn player, world renowned musician Radek Baborák and about what it is to live on the “Olympus of fame”. The film captures this musical titan in his engagement in one of the most prestigious orchestras in the world, the Berlin Philharmonic, and uncovers his private opinions through intimate conversations, as well as his doubts about the meaning of his line of work. Apart from our horn hero, whose career takes an unexpected turn in the course of the film, we have the rare chance to see gathered here several other musical stars, some of whom are top interpreters and living legends in the field of classical music. Conductors Seiji Ozawa, Daniel Barenboim, Sir Simon Rattle or musicians such as flutist Emmanuel Pahud or horn player Gerd Seifert unveil their opinions on the pitfalls of orchestral and solo playing.

The primary subject of the film is world-famous hornist Radek Baborák, who won the Solo Horn position with the Berlin Philharmonic and then resigned a few years later. The film unfolds through a series of interviews with Baborák, interviews with various conductors and colleagues, and brief historical information about the horn. Though a concrete reason for Baborák’s resignation from the orchestra isn’t given, one can surmise that there were disagreements of an artistic nature. The film is entertaining, and full of fantastic horn playing by Baborák and his colleagues. There is also some interesting information about the Berlin Philharmonic and its audition and hiring practices.  The subtitles are clear and easy to understand, and the DVD plays just fine on a laptop drive. It is a little difficult to obtain; currently the only way to get it in the U.S. is to send a PayPal payment directly to Limbus Production. I was a little hesitant to order it, but after sending payment the disc arrived promptly and in good condition. Worth watching if for no other reason than the great horn playing.

Snark Clip-On Tuner

The Snark is a chromatic tuner that clips directly to an instrument, receiving input through either a microphone or vibration from the instrument itself. If you are in search of an inexpensive, lightweight tuner for traveling, the Snark fits the bill. The display is bright, uncomplicated, and easy to read, with good battery life. Though I haven’t rigorously tested its accuracy, it would seem to be just as accurate as my go-to tuner app on my phone. While iPhone and Android apps are ubiquitous now, I think there is still a place for the standalone tuner and metronome. For one, leaving your phone off the stand (and silenced) removes the temptation to check email and/or social media during practice time. And second, a lightweight, cheaper device is less likely to be knocked to the floor and damaged. The added benefit of the Snark is that it securely clips to the horn when in use, and can be clipped to a stand for storage.

TuneUp Intonation Training System

Stephen Colley’s intonation exercises have been around for several years, but I only recently obtained a copy. As I mentioned in this post, Christopher Dwyer of the St. Louis Symphony highly recommended the book, which in turn was recommended to him by members of the Chicago Symphony. After working regularly out of the book for the past few months, here are my observations on the TuneUp system. First, the pros:

  • The approach to developing pure (just) intonation is systematic, thorough, and effective. Colley provides copious explanations and exercises in every key to help you learn where each chord member belongs, as well as your tendencies on each note. My favorite exercises are the “Interval Studies,” in which you perform first a tonic reference note with the CD, and then a series of chord tones with CD accompaniment. The first several lines go through Root, Fifth, and Third in whole notes (with whole notes in the CD), followed by half-notes (Root-Fifth, Root-Third, Third-Fifth), once again with whole notes in the CD. The final two lines in each key include seventh chords and inversions, followed by an exercise in the relative minor.
  • The accompanying CD includes a tonic drone in every key, as well as  major and minor chord progressions in all keys. The timbre of the reference CD is intentionally stark and artificial in quality, which makes it extremely easy to hear intonation discrepancies.
  • Regular practice with this system will definitely improve your ability to hear and adjust intonation! The book is available in a variety of transpositions (C, Bb, Eb, F or Bass Clef) as well as A=440 or A=442. Although I have only used the book on my own or in lessons with students, I would assume that it would be equally effective when used with a small ensemble or even a larger group.

And while I believe that the advantages of the TuneUp System outweigh its disadvantages, in the interest of thoroughness here are some “cons.”

  • There is a learning curve. Once mastered, intonation might be considered an intuitive process, but at its core is based on precise mathematical ratios. Colley does a thorough job explaining these principles, but there is quite a bit of text (27 pages) before the exercises begin. Though obviously interested in the topic, I found my mind wandering a bit while reading this extensive preface. Perhaps some of the text and explanations could be incorporated onto the same pages as the actual exercises, which would cut down on the amount of introductory material. I found it helpful to pencil in annotations from the introduction above the exercises to help me remember some important concepts.
  • The book+CD is expensive. When compared to other materials of this kind (book + CD), the price point for the TuneUp System is significantly higher. Maybe offering a digital and/or web-based version of the system would be an effective way to reach a wider audience.
  • There are quite a few typos. I encountered several instances of wrong notes in the text, especially in the interval studies. It was always easy to determine the correct pitch (usually the next line or space), but after finding them on several consecutive pages it became a little frustrating.

When weighed against the entire book, these are minor criticisms, and I would still recommend the TuneUp System to both teachers and students.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these brief reviews!

 

Coming Soon From Mountain Peak Music: Solo Training for Horn

I’m long overdue for a new post and an update on my forthcoming publication from Mountain Peak Music, but with the end of the semester now in sight I can finally carve out some time to remedy that! In short, the first draft of Solo Training for Horn is over 50% complete, and I anticipate finishing it by the end of August. Intended as a companion to Solo Duet Training for Horns, this book will contain exercises and routines specifically designed to help players tackle challenges found in eight standard horn solos. As with the previous book, all of the works are in the public domain. There is some overlap with the duets, but there are also plenty of new pieces as well. Here is the list:

  • Beethoven, Sonata, Op. 17
  • Dukas, Villanelle
  • Haydn, Horn Concerto No. 1, Hob. VIId:3
  • Mozart, Horn Concerto, K. 495
  • Saint-Säens, Morceau de Concert, Op. 94
  • Schumann, Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70
  • Telemann, Horn Concerto in D, TWV 51:D8
  • F. Strauss, Concerto, Op. 8

Though there are some commonalities between the duet book and this one, I found my work on Solo Training to be much more involved and thus slower. While the material is of course largely based on the works listed above, creating these derivative exercises required a different mindset and approach than the earlier book. To help explain and demonstrate some of these exercises, I put together a brief video to accompany this post. FYI, I will be giving an expanded version of this presentation at the 48th International Horn Symposium in Ithaca, NY this summer. The presentation won’t be an advertisement for my book, but will instead focus on ways you can use some of the same techniques to create your own derivative exercises. These are not new ideas, but I think that students and teachers will find them especially useful because they are now organized and collected in one place.

Fragmentation/Transposition: Taking a short motive or motives from a challenging passage and transposing it to different keys. This builds more comprehensive technique and greater awareness of the intervals than simply repeating the same passage at the written pitch level. For example, mm. 96-102 from the first movement of Beethoven’s Horn Sonata, Op. 17…

beethoven…can be adapted into the following progressive exercise:

beethoven_exercisesHere’s a demonstration of the complete exercise.

a la Kopprasch: This means taking a familiar pattern and changing the rhythm and/or articulations to create a more engaging and challenging exercise. For example, this triplet passage from the Villanelle by Paul Dukas…

dukasbecomes:

villanelle_exerciseAnd here it is demonstrated.

Flow Study: Removing all but the most important notes from a lyrical or technical passage, and reducing it to a flow study. Notes are gradually added, while maintaining the same basic melodic shape and direction to the air stream. Transposing the exercise to other keys makes it more useful and interesting to practice. The familiar opening of Mozart’s K. 495…

mozart1

Becomes:

mozart_exercise

Here’s the video.

Here are two more examples which combine several strategies. Both are based on this passage from K. 495.

mozart2

The first exercise deals with a small portion of the phrase:

mozart_exercise2

And now the video:

The second exercise deals with the passage as a whole, with varying rhythms and articulations.

mozart_exercise3

And the video.

I hope this brief introduction to Solo Training for Horn has whet your appetite for more, and if you like any of the exercises presented above feel free to print them for your own use. The book will have many more exercises and routines, roughly 12-15 for each solo work. I’m very excited about completing the book, and look forward to sharing it with the horn playing community. Stay tuned for more updates!

Brief Reviews: Quality Tones App and The Big Book of Sight Reading Duets

Today’s brief reviews will consider two new products for brass players: Quality Tones – an app for iOS and Android devices – and The Big Book of Sight Reading Duets, from Mountain Peak Music. Both provide a creative, fresh approach to learning fundamental musical skills.

app-iconQuality Tones was designed by Spencer Park, a member of the San Antonio Symphony Horn section, and is available for a reasonable price on both the Apple Store and Google Play. I first heard the term “Quality Tones” at a master class given by William VerMeulen, though the concept can probably be traced back to Arnold Jacobs. Essentially, quality tone studies are meant to train the brass player’s mind and body to produce any pitch at any dynamic, with varying lengths, articulations, and tonal shadings, all with a consistent and beautiful tone quality. The Quality Tones app provides a means to achieve that end, by presenting a fully customizable selection of random notes, dynamics, articulations, etc, presented on individual “slides.” The app is meant to be practiced with a metronome, and notes can be repeated until the desired effect is achieved. After trying out the app myself and with a few students, I found it both fun and easy to use. The capacity for variation built into Quality Tones is fantastic, and training sessions could easily be created for a wide range of playing levels. Development is ongoing, with updates planned for adding drone, tuner, metronome, automatic slide advancement, and tone/decibel feedback features. One other tweak that might be helpful is to include time signatures for each quality tone study.

Horn_Cover_Web__91885.1442358992.225.275The Big Book of Sight Reading Duets, created by David Vining (horn version edited by Heidi Lucas), provides a progressive, enjoyable path to  improved sight reading. I’ve been using this book for the past several months in my teaching, usually beginning each lesson with a few random selections. It has rapidly become a favorite among my students, who are quick to remind me if we forget to begin a lesson with it! Despite several quality publications on the market, sight reading still remains a mystery to many students, who often avoid practicing it out of an ill-founded belief that one either can or can’t sight read well. While it is true that some otherwise competent musicians struggle with sight reading while others seem to have an almost uncanny gift, in my experience it can be improved provided that the necessary time is invested. These duets make putting in that time less of a chore. The 100 duets are grouped by difficulty, and each skill level includes a range of styles and challenges. Transpositions as well as bass clef versions make the horn edition by Heidi Lucas even more effective. While it might be tempting to immediately dive right into this book, I strongly recommend that students and teachers first read the Introduction, which is full of practical sight reading advice, and perform the clapping duets found in the beginning. Your students may scoff at the idea of clapping rhythms, but they won’t after the first couple of examples. In some ways the clapping duets are more challenging than the regular examples, and demand an even higher level of concentration and rhythmic integrity.

If you’re looking for some innovative ways to approach the interrelated topics of accuracy and sight-reading, check out the resources above. You won’t be disappointed!

Etudes in Review: 30 Etudes for Stopped Horn, by Robert Ward

I picked up this great collection of stopped horn studies at the IHS Symposium in Los Angeles, but have just now gotten around to writing up a review. Author Robert Ward is well-known in the horn world, through his long tenure with the San Francisco Symphony as well as a growing number of compositions with horn. Published by Balquhidder Music, these etudes would be a welcome addition to an intermediate or advanced player’s library.

Over the last several weeks I’ve been working my way through the book, spending approximately 10 minutes on them per day. After covering about one third of these studies, I’ve found them to be fun, challenging, musically rewarding, and a real workout for stopped horn! Before getting into too many more details, here is a brief quote from the Preface.

This collection of 30 Etudes for Stopped Horn presents a variety of challenges for the medium to advanced player. I have included different styles from simple melodies to unmeasured quasi-cadenza, to swing and 12-tone, high and low register passages, and a variety of notations that are commonly used.

The studies are more or less progressive in nature, with each number presenting a few more challenges than the one preceding it. These challenges include rapid stopped to open shifts, meter changes, transposition, and a variety of different articulations, covering a range from B to c”’. Though the primary focus is of course on strengthening stopped horn technique, there are numerous other technical and musical benefits to be gained from this material. As Ward mentions in the Preface, these studies are not recommended for learning how to play stopped horn, but rather are designed to improve one’s abilities once the basics have already been more or less mastered. On the topic of fingerings, Ward writes in the Preface:

Fingerings are the subject of much debate – my experience is that every horn and player combination is unique. What works for one player, may not work for another. But start from the place of fingering one half step lower on the F-horn and go from there. There are many good Bb horn fingerings, especially in the higher register, but again, experimentation is the name of the game.

I largely agree with this assessment, although it might have been useful to include a suggested fingering chart or a few fingering options within the score. The printing and layout are clear, and the overall package is very nice. The main strength of these studies, though, is their musical inventiveness across a range of styles and technical demands. As with the Studies for Unaccompanied Horn by Gunther Schuller and 48 Etudes by Verne Reynolds, many of Ward’s studies would be effective on a recital performance.

If you need some extra stopped horn practice (and who doesn’t?) be sure to check out these etudes!

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