First Solos for the Horn Player: Air from Rosamunde

Next in this video project series is an arrangement of Franz Schubert’s Air from Rosamunde. Like the previous selections in First Solos for the Horn Player, this brief solo emphasizes lyrical playing. The range and technical requirements are suitable for beginning to intermediate players.

A few technical notes: if you have the book First Solos for the Horn Player, you probably know that the second movement from Mozart’s Horn Quintet, K. 407  is actually listed third in the book. I will be recording that one as well, but could use some more time to practice it! I also think a more suitable place for that one is near the end of the collection, along with the rest of the more extended and difficult solos. It’s certainly the most recognizable work in the whole book, which probably explains its early inclusion.

As mentioned in my previous post, I’ll be recording these from home for the foreseeable future. I haven’t edited the audio in any way, other than to trim the beginning and ending. The sound is consistent with a small room, but overall acceptable, I think, as is the sound of the SmartMusic accompaniment. Although nothing has been decided yet, it may turn out that our students play juries this way: recorded or live streamed from home with pre-recorded accompaniment. As such, another goal of this project is to demonstrate the possibilities and limitations of  this recording set up.

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.

Practice Tips: Organizing and Learning Lots of Repertoire

Busy students and professionals often find themselves having to prepare many different programs simultaneously, such as solo recitals, chamber music, orchestra/band concerts, weekly lesson materials, etc. If you have time to focus on every thing each day, then you are very lucky! However, the case more often is that there simply isn’t enough time to cover every single piece of repertoire each day. Having to “cram” for too many performances repeatedly can lead to burnout, injury, and a whole host of other issues.

Here are some of my strategies for organizing and working on several different programs at once.

  • Put Everything in a Digital or Paper Calendar: Clearly mark all rehearsal and performance dates in your professional/school calendar. Consider color coding the entries according to the type of program, (ex. blue for chamber music, green for large ensemble, etc.). This will help you tell at a glance what the next upcoming engagement is.
  • Organize Music: I like to use post-it notes and/or manila folders to keep my music in order (see above image). I write the date of the performance(s) and/or rehearsal(s) on the note or the manila folder. This makes it easy to prioritize practice materials chronologically according to the performance date. When I grab my stack of music to practice, I sort things according to the date as well as the difficulty. For example, a difficult work scheduled several months from now might require more regular practice than an easier piece scheduled for the immediate future.
  • Plan Each Practice Session: Schedule your practice sessions, and then create a list of works to focus on in each session. Set specific goals and/or a time limit. Try both strategies (time and goal oriented), and figure out which works best for you.
  • Reflect, Revise, then Repeat: Once a week, take some time to reflect on your practice strategies and goals. Consider changing things up if they aren’t effective.

I hope these tips help you achieve more effective practice sessions!

Advice for Students: Getting Back in Shape and Surviving Band Camp

The following meme recently circulated on social media, shared on Facebook by Houghton Horns, and also found on Twitter under the bandmemes hashtag.

Funny, yes, but also painfully true for many students at the beginning of the fall semester. The schedule for high school and college marching band camps can be pretty grueling, especially if one is nursing tired or out-of-shape chops. Here’s a few tips to help you survive. *While some of these tips are geared towards the high and middle brass (trumpet, mellophone, horn), others are applicable to all instruments.

Be Realistic: If you aren’t in shape by this point, you really need to take things easy for several days in order to build back up safely. No amount of wanting to play better or be stronger will make it happen instantly. You only get one set of chops, and taking care of them is very important.

Warm-Up/Warm-Down: Make sure you are getting in a good warm-up and warm-down each day before and after rehearsals/sectionals. Depending on how strenuous the show is, you might want to keep the warm-up to 10 minutes or so, focusing on the middle register and mezzo forte dynamics. Extend the warm down at the end of the day to help prevent stiffness the next day. Alternating a warm/cool compress on your embouchure and lightly massaging your face can be beneficial as well.

Never, ever, play through pain. It’s simply not worth it.

Learn How to “Mark”: This term refers not to writing in your music, but rather to a technique singers use to save their voices during strenuous performance/rehearsal schedules. How you do it will vary depending on the music, but it can be tastefully done so that no one is the wiser.  Some examples for brass players include: performing a bit (or a lot) less than the printed dynamics, taking passages or individual notes down an octave, or simply taking a quick break every now and then to get the horn off your face. This should be done as unobtrusively as possible, and perhaps in coordination with the rest of the section.

2:1 Rule: In personal practice I’ve found that for every day off, I require two (or three) days to return to my initial playing level. If I take an entire day off and don’t touch the horn at all (this is rare), I need at least two or three days of regular practice to get it back. This recovery time can be mitigated by doing a daily warm-up/maintenance routine, even while on vacation. While it might be a pain to drag your horn with you on vacation, it could actually make life easier upon your return. This is, of course, a personal choice, and rest and relaxation are also important to your development as a brass player and overall well being.

Self-Care: Drink lots of water, use sunscreen, get the right amount of sleep, and eat mindfully whenever possible.

And above all, surround yourself with positive people and keep a positive attitude!

 

 

Low Range in the Daily Routine: To Blast or Not to Blast?

In the past I generally avoided low register “blasting” in my warm-up and daily maintenance routine, but recently I’ve had some positive results using Denise Tryon’s routine. If you aren’t familiar with this one it is worth checking out. It’s a bit shorter than some other published materials, and covers all the basics in around thirty minutes.

Getting back to low note blasting, my previous experience was that too much of it early in the day made the high range feel unfocused. I still played over the full range of the horn in my daily routine, but left the extreme fortissimo exercises for later practice sessions. However, during a recent evaluation of my regular practice materials, I decided to incorporate some low, loud patterns back into my daily regimen. After two months of doing the exercise found in the Tryon Routine every day, here are a few of the benefits I’ve noticed:

  • It really gets the air moving. Breathing exercises are great, but playing as loud as possible (with a good sound) in the low range requires moving huge amounts of air. When done efficiently, it can help open up the rest of the range as well.
  • It helps loosen up stiff chops. I realize now that this should have been obvious, but old habits die hard, and I really had to give these exercises a chance to experience this particular benefit.
  • Flexibility and consistency in and out of the low range gets a lot easier. Passages that go across the break range (ex. opening of Ein Heldenleben) have become more fluid and dependable.

Needless to say, I’ve changed my thinking about low note blasting! However, I would offer a few caveats:

  • Avoid doing it first thing. I would recommend at least a few minutes of gentle, mid-range warming up before jumping into any kind of range or dynamic extremes.
  • Avoid distorting the embouchure. Looking back on it, I believe the problems I experienced with previous forays into this territory stemmed from over manipulating and/or distorting the lips.
  • If things aren’t working, change something. If, after trying a new variation/addition to your routine, you aren’t experiencing positive results, don’t be afraid to change. Make notes about what you notice, and keep looking for ways to be more efficient.

All right, time to go out there and get blasting!

 

Changing Up the Practice Routine

For the last several years my practice routine has been more or less set:

  • 50-60 minutes of warm-up/maintenance routine, occasionally changing up my regular materials or switching out various exercises.
  • 20-25 minute (or longer) break
  • 50-60 minutes of practice immediately following, or later in the day depending on my schedule
  • Long Break (2-3 hours)
  • Optional shorter session (20-30 minutes) as necessary

This worked pretty well for years, though from time to time I would have some issues with rebuilding endurance after heavy programs or breaks. For a variety of reasons (age among them) I decided this semester to change things up and see what differences, if any, resulted. In short, I suspected that my initial routine was too long and strenuous first thing in the day, and despite having a good break before continuing with further practice, the long first session was tiring me out instead of building things up. This is hardly a new idea, and lots of great teachers and performers have noted this before. But as any dedicated musician knows, it’s tough to change up your normal routine, even if it is less than ideal for you. For many (me included), the routine is a security blanket, a place to find refuge during tough playing times. In the midst of preparing some difficult repertoire for performances this spring, something needed to change. Here’s my newly-modified practice schedule:

  • 25-30 minute warm-up/maintenance routine
  • 10 minute break
  • 25 minute session
  • 5 minute break
  • 25 minute session
  • 5 minute break
  • 25 minute session
  • Longer Break
  • 15 minute session

It’s the same amount of time as my old practice schedule, but with more frequent breaks earlier on. In addition, I’ve made some changes to my regular warm-up/maintenance exercises. They still cover all of the essentials, but are more progressive and don’t start out so strenuously. I’ve been very pleased with the results, and feel that this the right path for me going forward. My endurance and efficiency are improved, and just as important, my recovery time after heavy performances has decreased.

I have a follow-up post coming on this, but to close I would recommend as a summer project for any horn students to switch up both your routine and practice schedule. Plan things out, take notes on how things feel at certain points in the day, and experiment with the order and pacing of your practice day. Have fun!

Horn Pedagogy Videos and More from Eli Epstein

Renowned horn pedagogue and performer Eli Epstein has a posted a  new video on Breathing and Breath Support to his YouTube Channel. Mr. Epstein gives a concise, yet detailed and anatomically correct, explanation of breathing, and also demonstrates how to put these concepts into practice. Before further discussion, you should watch the video!

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, Mr. Epstein’s approach to the horn is relaxed, methodical, and overwhelmingly positive, which makes for a very effective teacher. One especially unique element is the use of a chair to engage the same muscles used in breath support. Mr. Epstein expertly demonstrates by playing Mendelssohn’s Nocturne from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, accompanied by a silhouette and animated meter showing varying levels of breath support There is a lot of information packed into this six and half-minute video, so it should be viewed multiple times if possible.

If you like this video and find it useful, be sure to check out his other videos on Relaxation Before Performance and Radical Practicing. The relaxation video comes at a very fortuitous time, as many of us in the education field are approaching the end of our academic year. If you find yourself getting tense and more stressed than usual, take five minutes to listen to this video. You’ll feel more relaxed afterwards.

In Radical Practicing, Mr. Epstein discusses and demonstrates the importance of varied repetition as the pathway to learning new material. When we repeat material over and over in exactly the same way, we become bored, even if we continue making the same mistake. Varying our repetitions to target specific elements of a passage is a much more effective way to learn and retain. On a personal note, this concept played a huge role in the development of my etude book Solo Training for Horn.

If juries, final exams, and other end-of-term tasks are starting to stress you out, take a break and view the above videos. It will be time well spent!

Brass Pedagogy Interview Questions

Earlier this semester I was contacted by David Mercedes, a doctoral tuba student at the University of Iowa, with several interview questions for his Advanced Brass Pedagogy course with Professor Jeffrey Agrell. David had some very insightful questions, and I have shared these (and my candid responses) below, with David’s permission. The questions are similar, though not exactly the same, as those posted by John Ericson at Horn Matters. I assume both projects are for the same pedagogy class – BRAVO to David Mercedes, Professor Agrell, and the rest of the Advanced Brass Pedagogy class on a fantastic project!

During your years of collegiate teaching, what do you think you have brought to your studios that has been most valuable to them?

I think I’ve brought a variety of professional experiences as well as enthusiasm and passion for what I do.

What is the best way you motivate your students?

Leading by example! I never ask students to do anything I don’t already do or have done in the past. I try to be as excited as I can about whatever it is that they/we/I are doing, with the hope that my excitement is contagious. Attitudes are contagious, and having a positive attitude is one of the most important attributes you can bring to your teaching.

How do you work with students who don’t seem to be motivated, and are complacent with not progressing as a musician?

I try to find something that they are interested in, whatever that may be, and use that as a conversation starter. Students almost always have something they are passionate about, and I try to help them transfer some of that passion to their musical studies. I ask them to provide both long and short-term goals, and we use that as a basis for materials and strategies covered in lessons.

What are some of your recruiting strategies?

Recruiting has been and continues to be a major component of my current position. Here is a short list:

  • Regular visits to local schools
  • Recruiting tours with other brass faculty
  • Develop a robust, professional online identity through website, social media, YouTube videos, etc.
  • Email, hand-written letters to prospective students
  • Annual on-campus recruiting events (Brass Day, Horn Day, etc.)
  • Building relationships with local music educators

How strict is your personal practice plan? What makes you stick to it, and how often do you change it?

I’m fairly regimented in this area, although age and experience have taught me to be more flexible. I strive for 2 hours of focused practice throughout a work day, unless rehearsals, performances, or other obligations prevent it. I enjoy practicing and learning new repertoire, and that’s what keeps me motivated. I am almost always planning a future program in my mind and thinking over repertoire choices.

How did you go about getting invited to perform at festivals, conferences and other institutions?

Persistence – keep applying for as many of them as you can and eventually your proposals will be accepted. Ask for feedback on your proposals from others who have been successful in applying for those festivals/conferences. Cultivate relationships with people in and out of your field – you never know when those relationships may bear fruit. Be a GOOD PERSON.

What advice would you have for someone who is looking to follow a career path like yours?

Stay interested in what you do, and stay positive. Figure out what it is that you do well, and continue to improve on those things. You can’t do everything, and no one expects you to. Seek out others who are doing the same kinds of things you are and ask them questions about their success, failure, etc. Be honest with yourself and your capabilities – this is very important in avoiding burnout. Try to avoid over-committing yourself. Be especially careful in how you represent yourself on social media. This is incredibly important today.

What is a typical day like for you?

It really varies depending on my teaching and performing schedule. I almost always start the day with some meditation and breathing exercises, followed by a warm-up/maintenance routine. I feel like if I can get that part completed early in the day then I am well-prepared for whatever challenges come my way.

What is the on – campus interview like?

Varies depending on the position and duties, but here are some general components.

  • One or more meetings/meals with the search committee
  • Exit meeting with search committee
  • Q&A with faculty/students
  • Meetings with various administrators
  • Master class and teaching demonstration
  • Rehearsal with collaborative pianist and a recital performance, hopefully not on the same day.
  • Reading session with faculty ensembles (if applicable)

These can be stressful, and you should make sure you take time throughout the day or days that you are there to relax and have a little time to yourself. Remember that from the time you are picked up at the airport until the time you leave that you are being interviewed. The members of the search committee will probably be very relaxed and social with you and each other, which is a good thing, but don’t let it lull you into a false sense of security about your words and actions. Always represent yourself as positively as possible!

What do you think has been your biggest challenge as a musician?

Balancing the physical demands of playing with achieving musical goals. I tend to be an analytical player, which is helpful as a teacher and performer, but can sometimes get in the way.

Website Mini-Reviews

Up this week are brief reviews of three useful websites for musicians. In a previous post, I mentioned Toggl as a great tool for tracking and managing practice sessions. I’ve been using it more or less every day for the past several months, and still highly recommend it! In addition, check out the following sites to help plan and accomplish your practice goals.

Random.org: This is probably one of the most underrated websites around, with lots of potential random.orgapplications for musicians. It doesn’t have many bells and whistles, but is stable and does exactly what it advertises. One of my favorite tools is the Random List Generator. To use, simply copy and paste text into the box, and it will generate a randomized list. For example, copy and paste all 48 major and minor scales (click here for a PDF), hit the “Randomize” button, and off you go. To generate a new,  completely random list of the same scales, just go back and do it again. Practicing excerpts for an audition? Copy and paste them into the box to create a random order. (click here for a PDF list of several common excerpts). I also use the random number generator in lessons to pick out sight-reading examples. These are just a few of the ways you could use Random.org to make your practice sessions more effective, efficient, and fun! Let me know in the comments if you come up with others.

Trombone Tools: David Vining of Northern Arizona University and Mountain Peak Music has put together a fantastic collection of videos and articles. While some of them are obviously geared towards trombone players (Alternate Positions, for example), a majority would be useful for all brass players. His pages on Breathing, Lesson Guidelines for Students, and Hesitant Entrances are great places to start.

Don’t Waste Your Time Practicing! This new website was created by Dr. Travis Bennett, Associate Professor of Horn at Western Carolina University. Though still in the early stages of development, the site looks very promising. The title of the page is taken from a presentation Dr. Bennett has given on the topic of efficient practice, available on YouTube and embedded below. I look forward to seeing this new resource take shape.

 

 

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!

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