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.

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.

Descant Horn “Hacks”

I’ve been playing lots of descant horn lately – mostly in preparation for an upcoming recording project, but also for some new music concerts –  and have noted a few tips to improving performance.

Find the Right Mouthpiece: After experimenting with several mouthpiece options on the descant horn, I ultimately found the best results on my regular double horn mouthpiece, a Houser Standley GS12 cup with a Model “E” rim. While models such as the Moosewood BD and Osmun Haydn cup did offer lots of ease in the high register, they just never felt quite right on my face. For me I think it had something to do with not being able to comfortably fit my lips into the very shallow cups on these models. The Standley isn’t a huge mouthpiece either, but slightly larger than the Moosewood or Osmun. However, I would recommend trying out these models (or something similar like a Schilke 29) on a descant to see what you think.

High E-flat Fingerings on the High F Horn: Yes, the descant horn responds easier in the high range, but (at least for me) intonation can be a bit goofy above the staff using conventional high F fingerings. In addition to using a slightly more covered right hand position, I’ve also found that using High E-flat horn fingerings on the High F side works quite well for the A-flat, A, and B-flat above the staff. If you don’t have a high E-flat horn fingering chart handy, the new fingerings would be: T1 for A-flat (instead of T23), T2 for A (instead of T12) and T for B-flat (instead of T1). On the horn I’m using (an earlier model Paxman 40M), these alternate fingerings really sound and feel good. Give them a try yourself.

While these and other tips can certainly improve performance on a descant horn, the best “hack” isn’t a hack at all – lots of practice on the instrument. For practice materials I highly recommend two books: Martin Hackleman’s 21 Characteristic Etudes for High Horn Playing, published by Editions Bim,  and Dr. John Ericson’s Playing Descant and Triple Horns, published by Horn Notes Edition. In addition to etudes and orchestral excerpts, the latter contains lots of helpful hints for high horn playing, including fingering charts for descant (High F and E-flat) and triple horns.

Happy practicing!

New Book: Solo Training for Horn

Solo Training HornI’m pleased to announce that my new book, Solo Training for Horn, is now available from Mountain Peak Music. If you follow my blog you probably have heard about this project already, but in case you haven’t, here is a brief summary of the book and its contents.

Solo Training for Horn is designed to help you meet challenges found in eight popular solo works. When practiced regularly and intelligently, these studies will provide the foundation for successful performance of the works on which they are based, and other repertoire as well.

This collection consists of 12-15 studies per solo, each one focused on a relatively short passage or collection of passages. Literal repetition is generally avoided in favor of varied and progressive repetition. Most studies begin from a point of ease, and gradually progress to extremes, often going above and beyond what is required in the original works.

Works include: Sonata, Op. 17 by Ludwig van Beethoven, Villanelle by Paul Dukas, Concerto No. 1, Hob. VIId:3 by Franz Joseph Haydn, Concerto, K. 495 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Morceau de Concert, Op. 94 by Camille Saint-Saëns, Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70 by Robert Schumann, Concerto, Op. 8 by Franz Strauss, and Concerto in D, TWV 51:D8 by Georg Philipp Telemann.

And if you would like to hear a few excerpts from the book, here are two promotional videos.

As with my previous publication for Mountain Peak Music, writing Solo Training for Horn was an incredible learning experience. I hope that teachers and students of the horn find it a practical and effective addition to their repertoire of etudes and exercises. If you have any questions about the book or the writing process I would love to hear from you.

What’s next? Once the semester begins I will return to at least semi-regular blogging, and continue preparations for a recital coming up in early October (more on that later). I have a few bigger projects on the horizon, but for now am gearing up for the new academic year.

Coming Soon from Mountain Peak Music: Solo Duet Training for Horns

In my Semester Preview, I mentioned a new book project for Mountain Peak Music. Work on the publication has been going well, with an anticipated release in 2015. The title is Solo Duet Training for Horns, and it will consist of duo adaptations of several standard solo works for the horn. David Vining, owner of Mountain Peak Music and author of Solo Duet Training for Trombones, has written a very nice description of the concept behind the series. The comments are applicable to both trombone and horn players.

These duets are designed to assist trombone players in learning six of the most popular trombone solos. The two parts are equal in importance and difficulty. Solo Training Duets can be used to help students learn style and technique, as recreational musical diversions or even as additions to recitals.

The horn edition will contain the following:

  • Paul Dukas, Villanelle
  • Alexander Glazunov, Rêverie, Op. 24
  • W.A. Mozart, Horn Concerto No. 3, K. 447 (All 3 movements)
  • Camille Saint-Saëns, Romance, Op. 36
  • Camille Saint-Saëns, Morceau de Concert, Op. 94
  • Franz Strauss, Nocturno, Op. 7

In choosing works for this project, they needed to meet these criteria.

  1. Popular solos which appeal to a wide range of ability levels, with a special focus on advanced high school and college level players
  2. In the public domain internationally. (Sorry, no Strauss Concerto No. 1!)
  3. Work well as duo arrangements

There are of course more than six works which fit these requirements, so I had to use my best judgement as a teacher and performer to narrow down the list. Hopefully these duets will be useful to horn teachers and students. Briefly, here are some of the benefits to studying solo material in this manner.

  • Because each part contains an equal amount of solo and accompaniment material, they are actually more difficult than the original solos in terms of endurance and technique. By learning the duo parts, students will be more than prepared to perform the solo version.
  • Students will gain a much more thorough knowledge of the entire work, both solo and accompanying parts.
  • The duets can function well as etudes or in performance as concert works.
  • They are fun to play! I have confirmed this with my students!

To  generate some interest in the project and to give you an idea of what the finished book will contain, here is a short “teaser” video. The source material is the first movement from Mozart’s Concerto for Horn, K. 447.

As you will notice, I am performing both parts, through the magic of multi-track editing and recording. Because of the somewhat impromptu nature of the recording, I decided not to put any of my students on the spot. However, in the future I will definitely invite my students to join me (if they are willing!) for additional videos.

I am having a great time working on this project, and look forward to its completion. Adapting these works for horn duo is a tremendous learning experience, requiring in-depth study of the entire score. In some instances a small amount of re-composition is required in order to make the voice leading work for two voices or to make a part more playable on the horn. In all cases, I have tried to be as faithful as possible to the composer’s score.

Stay tuned for more updates!


New Resource: Kopprasch Guide, Tips and Suggestions for the Op. 6 Studies

Over the last few days I’ve gone through all of my posts related to the Kopprasch Project, and compiled them into a single document. As I wanted to focus only on tips and suggestions for the etudes themselves, the original posts have been edited for content. A link to a YouTube video of each study is included as well. Teachers and students should feel free to edit and/or amend my comments as necessary. They are only suggestions. Enjoy!

You can download the guide here, Kopprasch Guide: Tips and Suggestions for the Op. 6 Studies, and also on the Resources page.

Kopprasch Project: Some Final Thoughts

koppraschcoversAs promised, here are some closing thoughts on the Kopprasch Project. I wrote a similar post at roughly the halfway point, which you can read here. Actually there is very little to add to what I said then, except to emphasize how beneficial this endeavor has been for me as a horn player and teacher. I am extremely grateful to have had the time and resources necessary to complete a project of this scope, and have plans for other videos (no more Kopprasch for a while, though) in the future. For those who might be interested, here are some statistics and other related information.

  • Project Duration: Jan 23, 2011  to Mar 28, 2014 (3 years, 2 months, 6 days)
  • Total Views:  ca. 75,000 and counting
  • Subscribers: 462 and counting
  • Editions: 60 Studies for Horn, Book 1 (International Music Company, ed. James Chambers); Kopprasch Complete (Cornopub, ed. Corbin Wagner)
  • Equipment Used:  Horns: Yamaha 667V, Hans Hoyer G10, Engelbert Schmid ES1; Mouthpieces: Laskey 75G, Houser Standley Cup with 17.5mm “E” rim
  • Video Hardware/Software: Canon Vixia HFR10, Sony Microphone ECM-MS907, Adobe Premiere, Camtasia Studio 7, Windows Movie Maker

One other welcome but unexpected benefit from this project has been lots of experience working with video equipment and video editing software. Though far from being an expert at it, I’ve at least become proficient, and can apply this knowledge to other aspects of my career. If you are an aspiring teacher and/or performer but don’t yet know how to record and edit a basic audition or recital video, start learning today! These skills will pay off in a variety of ways, some obvious and others not so obvious. To assist my own students in gaining this experience, I plan on making a brief video project an assignment for studio class next year.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my work on the Kopprasch Project, and would recommend similar projects to students and teachers. Yes, it is a lot of work, but the rewards are well worth it. I am also very thankful for the support and encouragement I’ve received from my viewers. Their unsolicited comments were very kind, and helped get me through some of the rough patches in this multi-year undertaking. Here are a few (authors’ names removed).

I have been enjoying your recordings of the Kopprasch etudes, as well as learning from them. As someone who picked up the horn after a 25-year hiatus, your Kopprasch videos are invaluable. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time and effort to publish these videos. I also read this blog avidly. It is truly amazing to have such resources at the tip of my fingertips; this was unthinkable for most of us at the time I laid down my horn so many years ago. Anyway, take care and thanks again!

I wanted to comment on your fine effort with the latest Kop. study – #40.  In reviewing the earlier studies I cannot help but notice a change in your playing which I suppose might come from more experience and confidence in doing more of these studies.  But I also wondered to what degree your change in equipment has also influenced matters – new mp rim, new horn – of what I can see.  I am quite convinced that your sound has changed; changes of various positions in your studio and perhaps better use of the recording equipment notwithstanding.
What I hear is a warmer, concentrated sound, with more liquid slurs, more compact attacks, and what also seems to be less effort reflected in a more pronounced sense of musicality (not that your previous efforts were not musical!).
I thought that you might appreciate the feedback.

Thank you for these recordings. They are fun and useful! Can I make a request? The horn players in Maryland would be very grateful to have a high quality recording of #49 and #50 as they are required to play those for the All-State audition in November. Could you please consider adding these to your wonderful blog? Thanks.

Great videos! I’ve been studying the Kopprasch method and this [sic] have really helped me getting through them, Greetings from Mexico!

I was really hoping you would continue your Kopprasch recordings onto book 2. They have been a amazing resource that I’ve been able to direct my section to.

Congratulations for continuing on this project. I’m sure a lot of horn students all over the world will enjoy.
Greetings from Portugal!
If you’re wondering what’s next, I don’t have any plans right now to record additional Kopprasch etudes, like the Op. 5 High Horn Studies, but I do have several ideas for tutorials on horn playing and chamber music in general. There are  several upcoming performances over the next few weeks, along with normal end-of-semester business like juries, exams, and final grades. I also have a backlog of recordings and publications to review. My summer plans include rest and relaxation, but also work on an article and a few arranging projects, as well as a brass trio performance at the International Women’s Brass Conference in June.
To be continued!

Kopprasch Project “The Final Five” No. 60

No. 60 is a very interesting study, and a bit different from the other fifty-nine in Kopprasch’s Op. 6 collection. It can be practiced quite slowly – which makes for a good single tonguing exercise – or when practiced at faster tempos (quarter note=60 +) it is a great workout for multiple tonguing. However you approach it, strive for five perfectly even notes (whether single or multiple tonguing), with some length on the eighth notes. For the quintuplets I used a combination of double and triple tonguing , with the syllables “ta-ka-ta-ka-ta” or “dah-gah-dah-gah-dah.”

I’ve often wondered what the composer’s goal or inspiration was for this particular etude, especially since there isn’t anything in the orchestral repertoire of that period with similar writing for the horn. However, if we look at solo horn music from that era (late 18th/early 19th century) we find some connections. Here is the first measure of Etude No. 60 as found in the Breitkopf and Härtel Edition on IMSLP.


And for comparison, here is the same measure in the Gumpert edition (also on IMSLP)


It’s very interesting to note the editorial changes in the Gumpert version, especially the added “staccato” marking, and the slight notation change. I assume the articulation markings were not necessary in the earlier edition as natural horn players would probably have tongued the fast notes without needing to be instructed to do so. Valved horn players were surely in the minority when these etudes were first published. By Gumpert’s day the number of valved horn players would have increased, so perhaps he felt the indication was necessary. However, in his excellent, meticulously researched article “The Original Kopprasch Etudes,” John Ericson cites evidence which suggests Kopprasch composed his etudes for the valved horn.

In either case, if we look at a solo horn work such as the Concerto No. 11 in E by Giovanni Punto (1748-1803), it is clear that Kopprasch knew the kinds of passage work that horn players might be required to play. Here is a short excerpt from the Third Movement of Punto’s concerto (Revised and arranged by Edmond Leloir, published by Hans Pizka Editions)


While not identical to the Kopprasch example, the relationship is immediately apparent.

This brings my Kopprasch Project to and end! I am working on some summary comments about the entire project – which has taken over three years to complete – and will post them next week.


Kopprasch Project “The Final Five” No. 59

We are approaching the end of our Kopprasch journey – for now, at least. Number 59 is a melodic study (with variation) which emphasizes the middle and upper register. Try to execute the turns as gracefully (and accurately) as possible, without sounding rushed. Although no articulation markings are indicated, the dolce marking at the beginning would suggest legato. However, I think the rapid passages in the variation benefit from a more pointed – though not quite staccato – approach. The ascending scale in 64th notes 10 measures from the end is a great place to use double-tonguing (depending on the tempo). My edition includes a tempo range of eighth-note = 76-84, and I tended towards the lower end of that spectrum. Choose a tempo which seems musically appropriate to you, but don’t let it get out of control!

A final area to examine in No. 59 is the placement of dynamic markings. For example, there is a discrepancy between editions as to where the forte marking occurs in mm. 4-5. In my edition, and in the Breitkopf and Härtel edition (imslp link here), the forte is placed directly on the downbeat of measure 5 (on the written  a”). Whether this was the composer’s intention or an engraving error is unknown to me, and it is worth noting that the Oscar Franz edition (imslp link here) moves the forte to the last 16th note in measure 4. *The etude is listed as No. 47 in the Franz edition. A similar situation occurs in mm. 8-9, but with a piano marking instead. My edition by Cornopub as well as the Franz edition are consistent in their placement, and follow the example set in mm. 4-5. The Breitkopf edition, however, is not consistent. My suggestion is to try it both ways, and choose the one that makes the most musical sense to you.

Kopprasch Project “The Final Five” No. 58

Etude No. 58 works out “slur two, tongue two” articulations as well as large leaps across a cascading series of arpeggios. The trickiest part about this study is centering a low note immediately after a rising sequence of arpeggios (see mm. 12-13, 16-17, etc.) For the rapid octave leap from g to g’, I like using the B-flat horn for the upper octave. It seems to help it pop out more accurately at the faster tempo. Tempo range in my edition is quarter note=88-112. My personal tempo for this video is quarter=88.

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