Caruso Journal: Week 6

After 6 weeks of daily work with the Caruso Routine, I’m still discovering new things, and continue to find the exercises very useful for building fundamentals. These will definitely be incorporated into my future teaching! No new material added this week (nothing new until after Week 8), but I’ve been experimenting with the three different beginnings to the Harmonic Series pattern. So far, playing them as written seems to work best for me.

Something else that occurred to me this week is that although the instructions say to keep the mouthpiece on the lips during rests and breath through the nose, there’s a difference between keeping the embouchure set and over tensing it. In an effort to avoid relaxing my setting, it’s tempting to “flex” the embouchure too much, which tired me out very quickly. After several weeks, I think I’ve found the right balance between these two.

To close, you may be wondering what else I’ve been doing in my routine besides Caruso Studies. Back in March I started using Daniel Grabois’s The Daily Drill for Horn Players, published by Brass Arts Unlimited. It’s a great riff on some of the standard warm-up maintenance materials, and was just the right thing (along with Caruso Studies) to help me stay motivated during this period of social distancing. I hope that you have found, and continue to find, reasons to stay motivated!

 

Caruso Journal: Week 5

Five weeks into my work with the Caruso Routine, and things are feeling very good. *If you are new to this ongoing series, feel free to check out the previous posts, which will provide some context. Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4

No new material this week, but continuing daily with:

  • Six Notes – Version 1
  • Lips/Mouthpiece/Horn – mostly Version A, although I’ve been experimenting a bit with Versions B and C
  • Harmonic Series –  As written (but quarter=80). I also need to try the alternate beginnings found at the bottom of the page.

One observation for the Harmonic Series exercises is that foot tapping and nose breathing really seem to help with establishing consistency. My initial experience with the Caruso method was that I had to suspend my concerns about nose breathing and just “buy in” to the pedagogy of it for a while until it started to feel more natural. That being said, I do not advocate nose breathing for most other normal playing situations. But for the purposes of his routine, it has been very effective. In a few more weeks I’ll be adding some low range exercises, which will be fun. Stay tuned!

Caruso Journal: Week 4

This week marks one month of daily practice with the Caruso Routine. I hope this journal can serve as a resource for others who are interested in these studies, and if nothing else, it can be a brief diversion from the twenty-four hour news cycle. Here are links to the previous posts in this series: Week 1Week 2Week 3.

In week 4 I started the Harmonic Series exercises, and rather than adding them to my daily routine, swapped them in for another similar, but non-Caruso pattern. My understanding, however, is that like much of the work we do on brass instruments, the exercises themselves are not as important as the way they are performed. These Harmonic Series exercises are very similar to ones I’ve done many times before, but in the context of Caruso’s method the approach is slightly different. The constant feeling of subdivision seems to change the overall feel, for one thing. One note is that I increased the tempo marking of quarter=60 to 80 in order to make it through each line in one breath. There aren’t any written instructions specifying this, but in Julie Landsman’s YouTube videos her student plays each line a bit faster than 60 and also in one breath. Some days they feel better than others, but as this was only my first week with them I am not too worried about the inconsistency. The previous patterns (Six Notes, Lips/Mouthpiece/Horn) have gotten much more consistent with repeated practice.

One other thing I’ve been thinking about in regards to Caruso Studies is that my unfounded perception of them before this undertaking was that they were exclusively “high note studies.” This perception has been proven false, and I’ve found all of the exercises up to this point to be very well balanced, incorporating both work and rest. In fact, in her Practice Calendar, Ms. Landsman doesn’t recommend beginning the “Heavy Lifting” exercises until the third month, and even then she suggests practicing them every other day.

 

Caruso Routine Journal: Week 2

Today marks my second week with the Caruso Routine, as adapted for horn by Julie Landsman. (Read about Week 1 here). As mentioned in my Week 1 post, I’m following the suggested practice calendar found on Ms. Landsman’s website. This week I continued with the Six Notes, mostly using Version 1, as it felt the best, and added Lips/Mouthpiece/Horn

Lips/Mouthpiece/Horn is played three times, first buzzing with the lips alone, then on the mouthpiece, and finally with the horn. To me it feels like this pattern stabilizes and centers the embouchure, and encourages steady air support. Three different versions are provided, with directions to choose the easiest one. Version A feels the best to me by far, as I can easily free buzz a second line G. Free buzzing the third space C requires me to roll in my lips more than usual, and the instructions specifically say to avoid this:

Attempting to manipulate the embouchure in any way will inhibit the progress of this exercise. Just produce the sound in the easiest way possible, without trying to place the chops in a certain way. Do not force the lips into place, even if all three events are slightly different from each other

I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to nose breathe when free buzzing the first time through, but I’ve been doing it anyway. I need to review the instructional video to see what Ms. Landsman and her student do. It would make sense to do so. On the third time through Version A (with the horn),  the second note of each group is produced by bending the first one down a half step. It’s not a tiring exercise, but you can definitely feel the embouchure at work when doing it. It seems to be working as an “early in the day” pattern, not first thing, but right after Six Notes. I appreciate the gradual, measured way that exercises are added in the Practice Calendar. Week 3 is the same as Week 2, but Week 4 adds Harmonic Series exercises.

 

Caruso Routine Journal: Week 1

Something that has kept me motivated in my practicing over the last several weeks has been an interest in routines. It’s something I’ve researched and published about, and at a personal level I also find them really interesting. The Caruso Routine is one that I’ve always wanted to try but didn’t feel I had the necessary time to devote to it.

After watching the videos and reading the other material several times on Julie Landsman’s Caruso Method page, I decided to give it a shot. Having never studied long term with a Caruso teacher, I’m taking things very slowly and following the detailed instructions and suggested Practice Calendar found on Ms. Landsman’s website. Initially, these exercises aren’t taking the place of my regular routine, but rather supplementing it.

For Week 1, the only thing on the calendar is The Six Notes, one of the fundamental exercises in Caruso studies. This past week I played the Six Notes first thing in the day, right after stretching and breathing exercises. The nose breath felt a little strange at first, but after a few days began to feel more normal. Foot tapping helps with coordinating the initial breath attack (and I’ve also been using a metronome along with it). So far I’ve only done Version 1, but will probably alternate with Version 2 in future weeks.

So how do things feel after a week of Caruso Routine? Pretty good! The Six Notes works great as a “first notes” pattern, and so far hasn’t made my chops feel stiff. Quite the opposite, things feel relaxed and responsive after playing it. Again, I’m taking things very slowly, and will be adding Lips / Mouthpiece / Horn for Week 2, per the Practice Calendar. As time goes on and I add more exercises, there will be more to report, but my initial impressions are good. For a great article and introduction to the Caruso Method, be sure to visit Julie Landsman’s page, and also check out this article at Horn Matters.

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!

 

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