Textbooks, OERs, and a Free Scale Book

The end of our spring semester and academic year is a good time to reflect, and this post will focus on a couple of things that should be of interest to college students and teachers. Last fall I joined a Faculty Learning Community (FLC) at my university, tasked with discussing and developing Open Educational Resources (OERs) for current and future courses. While I was already aware of OERs, this faculty group gave me the opportunity to delve into them in much greater detail, and discuss other pedagogical issues with colleagues from across campus. In addition to myself, the members included a diverse group of faculty from education, health sciences, history, political science, English, communications, chemistry, psychology, and mathematics. We ranged in experience from first-year Assistant Professors all the way to Full Professors with decades of teaching experience. Participation in this FLC was a year long commitment, with monthly meetings. It was a great experience, and I would recommend it to any university faculty who have the opportunity to participate in a group like this. *One perk that we did not know we would be receiving prior to joining was a new Samsung tablet, and a stipend(!)

One of the driving reasons behind the formation of this FLC is the rising cost of college textbooks. If you haven’t bought any yourself or paid for someone else’s lately, you are in for some severe sticker shock the next time you visit a college bookstore. There are several reasons for this high cost, but they are beyond the scope of this post, and were beyond the scope of our FLC. To sum things up, many college textbooks are far too expensive for students to reasonably afford, with the end result being that many simply do not buy them. As you can imagine, this impacts passing rates, retention, etc. While faculty have the academic freedom to choose the textbooks they feel will best fit their courses, it is important to at least consider the financial burden on students. This is where OERs come in. While music as a discipline is lucky when it comes to textbook costs – if you don’t believe me check the cost of an introductory biology book, for example – I was able to find and present on several great OERs for music. I have used many of them in the past, and in many cases they are as good or better than their paid (or higher cost) counterparts.

OERs aren’t the answer to everything, of course. Developing quality course materials is a time-consuming process, and the convenience of well-researched textbook and ancillary packages from big publishers can’t be underestimated. It is a thorny question, and our FLC did not come up with all the answers. However, we did our part to present the issues to other faculty in our respective departments, and discovered (and even created) some new OERs.

To finish out this post, I am including an OER developed a few years ago, a book of intermediate scale studies. My original thought was to publish this text at some point in the future, but I’ve decided to share it here as an OER, under a Creative Commons Attribution License.  Provided that you give appropriate attribution, you are free to do the following:

  • Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format

  • Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.

You may already have developed something similar for use in your own studio, but if you are looking for something or simply want a change from your current materials feel free to check it out! DOWNLOAD HERE: Intermediate Scale Studies for Horn

Here is a list of other free (or low cost) OERs for music. There are of course many more, but these are the ones I use on a regular basis.

Naxos Music Library *Free access if your university has a subscription.

SmartMusic *Student subscription ranges from $4 to $12/year

Sight Reading Factory *Student subscription as low as $2/year

Horn Matters *Free

Hornexcerpts.org *Free

IMSLP *Free

 

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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!

Review: Recipe for Success by Karen Houghton and Janet B. Nye

At our annual Brass Day event back in February, Karen Houghton and Janet B. Nye from Houghton Horns were our exhibitors and also guest presenters. While here, they gave a preview of their upcoming TMEA presentation, “Revealing the Secrets of Teaching Horn,” which was based on materials from their forthcoming method book, Recipe for Successs: A Balanced Curriculum for Young Horn Players. They were generous enough to give me an advance draft, which I’ve really enjoyed reading through and using with some of my students. Both authors have decades of practical experience as teachers and performers, and have worked with many successful young players. Recipe for Success is designed to take a player from beginner through the first 3-5 years, although the fundamentals presented are as applicable to advanced students and professionals as they are to young players. The dietary/cooking theme is fun, and makes a lot of sense when paired with musical education. This is a theme that should resonate with many age groups and levels of playing. Here’s an overview of the book’s contents and general organization.

Recipe for Success is organized into broad categories, which deal with essential components of good brass playing. Each Unit has a list of objectives, which should be very helpful for teachers of beginners, especially if horn isn’t their primary instrument. Units are divided into three levels of difficulty (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), and are paired with a basic food group (Dairy, Fruit and Vegetables, Meat, Grains, Dessert). The authors note that students should work through all of the categories (i.e. food groups) at the same level (1, 2, or 3) with the guidance of a teacher. A sample study plan is included to help get students and their teachers started. The chapters and topics are as follows:

    • Appetizers – Addresses parts of the horn, holding the horn, basic maintenance, right hand position, posture, embouchure, and tuning.
    • Getting started – Covers breathing, buzzing, first notes, pitch ID, and horn vs concert pitch.
    • Breathing and Tone (Dairy)
    • Range and Flexibility (Fruit and Vegetables)
    • Technique (Meat)
    • Music (Grains)
    • Just for Fun (Dessert) *Contains duets from the classical repertory, holiday tunes, compositions by students ranging in age from 12-17, tunes for solo horn and piano, and even a Mad Lib style activity related to music.
    • Additional Resources
      • practice planning
      • theory basics
      • rhythm practice *Including some excellent word rhythms beneficial for students with dyslexia, ADHD, and other learning differences. This material is based on research by Drs. Benjamin and Sara Raviotta. For more information on this topic, refer to Dr. Benjamin Raviotta’s dissertation as well as their two-part article, “ADHD and Dyslexia: Learning Differences in the Private Studio,” in the February and May 2018 issues of The Horn Call.
      • bass clef introduction
      • muting/stopping
      • FAQ for band/orchestra directors
      • Glossary
      • Index
      • Fingering Chart
      • Sample Menu (practice log)

The design and overall approach of the book is light-hearted and fun, but the content is of the highest quality. This a comprehensive beginning to intermediate horn method for the 21st century, taking into account both traditional approaches as well as new information and research (ex. working with diverse learning styles, etc.) While some educators may hold differing opinions on minor points in Recipe for Success, there is hardly anything I would consider controversial. The spiral binding, quality printing and sturdy construction will stand up to multiple years of use. It is reasonably priced at $24.95, especially considering the large amount of material contained within (my draft copy comes in at 246 pages). For more information and to pre-order your copy, visit the Houghton Horns website, and the Houghton Horns Facebook page for a brief video introduction. Bravo to Karen and Janet on this fantastic resource!

Comparing Microphones for Recording Solo Horn

Here’s a video comparing three different ways to record a solo horn.

  1. MXL R144 Ribbon Microphone – placed approximately 6 feet in front of the horn.
  2. Samson C02 Condenser Microphones – stereo pair in XY configuration placed approximately 6 feet in front of the horn.
  3. Samson C02 Condenser Microphones – stereo pair in NOS configuration placed approximately 6 feet in front of the horn.

The above are three common microphone techniques. There are many more, but my limited skills and equipment prevented me from exploring others.

This little project came about for three main reasons:

  • While I am most certainly not a recording engineer, I teach an Introduction to Music Technology course, and have an interest in recording techniques. I enjoy learning about the equipment and principles, and used this video as a way to put some ideas into practice.
  • Back to back comparison of the two types of microphones I own – ribbon and condenser. I’ve used both in various situations, but had not compared them in this way. For more information on microphones, see here.
  • I also wanted to try out a new way of recording – using independent audio and video equipment, rather than the all-in-one approach I have used for years. Though it took a little more time to set up, I think the end product was pretty successful. Syncing up the audio and video was less tricky than I anticipated.

Before getting into more discussion of the results, here’s the video. Separate audio files are also embedded if you would prefer to listen to those. I chose an excerpt from Otto Ketting’s Intrada because I’m performing it in a few weeks, and also because it has lots of contrast in a short amount of time.

Ribbon:

Condenser Pair XY:

Condenser Pair NOS:

Even with the extremely low cost equipment I am using, hopefully you can hear a difference among the three techniques. To me, the XY configuration has the best overall sound, although there are elements of the ribbon that I like quite a bit. Ribbon microphones are very popular for recording brass instruments, because of the warmth they bring to the sound. Higher quality microphones should of course yield more perceptible results, although my cheap MXL ribbon is ok for my purposes. I hope to do some more videos like this in the future, with different techniques and ensembles. In case you are interested, here is the equipment I used (microphones are listed above). Assuming you have a decent laptop, all of the other gear is very reasonably priced.

  • Audio Interface/Preamps: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
  • Computer: 13 inch, MacBook Pro, ca. 2012
  • DAW: Logic Pro X
  • Video Camera: Canon Vixia, ca. 2009
  • Video Editing: Final Cut Pro X

While there are some great all-in-one recording products out there, if you do lots of audio and video recording of your horn playing it might be worth exploring some of this equipment.

Recording Reviews: Richard Deane; Steven Cohen

I seldom post recording reviews on this site, but every once in a while I either receive a complimentary album in the mail, or hear about a project that piques my interest. To close out a series of reviews from this summer, here are two horn recordings that are well worth your time.

Mid-Century Sonatas for Horn and PianoRichard Deane, horn; Timothy Whitehead, piano

  • Halsey Stevens, Sonata for Horn and Piano (1953)
  • Paul Hindemith, Sonata für Althorn in Es und Klavier (1943/1956)
  • Bernard Heiden, Sonata for Horn and Piano (1939)
  • Paul Hindemith, Sonata für Horn und Klavier (1939)
Front+CoverBIGGER

These sonatas for horn and piano by Halsey Stevens, Paul Hindemith, and Bernard Heiden are staples in the repertoire. Deane is Associate Principal Horn in the New York Philharmonic, and served as Acting Principal for the 2017-18 season. He was previously a member of the Atlanta Symphony for many years. Though the repertoire is conventional, the extremely high caliber of the performances makes this recording special. Deane plays with a huge but focused sound. To my ear the “New York sound” has changed over the years, partially due to changes in equipment, I’m sure, but also probably as a response to the ever increasing demands of the job. Whitehead’s piano playing is equally impressive – especially in the final movement of the Hindemith E-flat Sonata – and is a fitting musical counterpart to the horn in these works.  There is not much in the way of liner notes, but there is a very nice video on YouTube with background about the project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mP-kJf8xiJM  One other interesting note about this album is that Whitehead not only performed on piano, but did all of the recording, producing, editing, and mixing – not a small feat! The recording is both vibrant and clear, and for those who might be interested the recording equipment is listed in the liner notes.

Cruise Control: Horn Music from Five Emerging American Composers – Steven Cohen, horn; Jed Moss, piano; Scott Shinbara, percussion; Amanda Sealock, percussion

  • James Naigus, Sonata for Horn and Piano
  • Jenni Brandon, Dawn for Horn in F and Piano
  • Adam Wolf, Cruise Control for Horn, Piano and Percussion
  • Wayne Lu, Pranayama
  • Gina Gillie, Sonata for Horn and Piano
IMG_5653

Cruise Control is a contrasting but equally interesting album by New York City freelancer Steven Cohen, and features world premiere recordings by several up and coming American composers. This project was sponsored by Siegfried’s Call, with a significant portion of the funding generated through an Indiegogo campaign. Be sure to check out the Indiegogo link for more information about the project and the commissioning process.

The music on this disc is fun and fresh, and showcases what I think the horn does best: play beautiful melodies and exhibit a variety of timbres. Cohen navigates the full range of the horn with ease and expression (using similar equipment to Richard Deane, a triple horn by Engelbert Schmid). Stylistically there is a bit of everything on this recording, from Neo-romanticism in the Sonatas by James Naigus and Gina Gillie to Minimalism and Rock in Cruise Control by Adam Wolf, and avant garde extended techniques in the works by Jenni Brandon and Wayne Lu. This recording is a musical and technical tour de force, and serves as a great resource for anyone interested in new music for the horn.

Equipment Update: Budget Recording Gear for the Classical Musician

Departing a bit from my previous “Equipment Update” posts, this one is not about horns, mouthpieces, or mutes. Instead it is a basic introduction to recording equipment for the classical musician, with some inexpensive, but functional, recommendations. I’ve owned recording equipment of one kind or another since my undergraduate days, starting with a Sony Minidisc recorder paired with a small Sony microphone, and later upgrading to a variety of handheld audio and video recorders manufactured by Sony, Roland, and Zoom. These were all great devices; portable, easy to use and of high enough quality to use for auditions, recital recordings, and YouTube videos.

Recently, however, I began to wonder if it might be possible to purchase individual components and put together a relatively inexpensive system suitable for live classical recording. I knew from the outset that it was neither feasible nor desirable to purchase the high end gear I’ve seen professional engineers use. My purpose was primarily educational (I teach an Introduction to Music Technology class), though I do plan to use my equipment for some future projects. I’m happy to say that for around $300, I succeeded in finding decent components which get the job done at a level equal to, or better than, the handheld devices listed above. So, what will you need if you want to do the same? Here’s a quick rundown.

  • Laptop or Desktop Computer For the amateur (as I most certainly am when it comes to recording equipment), this is probably the single most expensive component. Luckily I already own a slightly older, but still perfectly serviceable, laptop (13-inch MacBook Pro). A desktop computer would be just fine as well, although less portable than a laptop. If you are in the market for a new laptop or desktop, don’t worry about needing lots of computing power for basic recording needs. Games and other graphic-intensive applications require far more RAM and processing speed. My 4 year old laptop runs my recording equipment just fine. In my opinion, either Mac or PC is fine, choose the platform you are most comfortable using.
  • Audio Interface The next piece of essential equipment, the interface serves several functions: it converts the analog signals from your microphones into digital signals that your computer can process, provides phantom power to your microphones, and functions as a preamplifier. They can be relatively cheap (less than $100), or very expensive (thousands of $$). It all depends on what features you want and how many microphone inputs you need. After some searching around and inquiring from knowledgeable sources, I decided on the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, available for around $150. For my purposes – live solo or chamber music recording in a recital hall – I didn’t think I’d need more than two microphone inputs. I can always upgrade at some point if more inputs become necessary. So far I’ve been very pleased with the Focusrite, it’s sturdy, easy to connect and set up, and functions as advertised.
  • Microphones This is a deep rabbit hole, and my ignorance about them was one of the big reasons I avoided going beyond handheld recording devices. However, after familiarizing myself with the various types (see this tutorial video for a great introduction), I decided to take the plunge and purchase my own. As with audio interfaces, microphones can be had for $100, $1000, or $5000+, depending on the brand, type, and various other technical details. For brass instrument recording there are lots of good options, but I went with a matched pair of small-diaphragm (cardioid pattern) condensers, the Samson C02. These are definitely on the low end of the price spectrum, but they had good reviews and came with stands and cables (these are NOT the microphones pictured at the beginning of this post). Other microphones I considered at a similar price point include the Rode M5 and ART M-Six. There are certainly better microphones out there, but for the money spent, I think I got an excellent value.
  • Software (DAW) The term DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is generally used now to refer to recording and editing software, but at one point in the not-too-distant past actually meant a separate device or devices. If you’ve been keeping up with the math, you know that I’ve already reached the ca. $300 budget mentioned at the beginning of this post. The great thing about the DAWs I frequently use is that they don’t cost anything, and are fully functional. For several years I’ve used Audacity, a free, open-source DAW that incorporates many of the features of more expensive software. It is user-friendly, and simple to set up with my audio interface. I have also been using Studio One 3 Prime, a free version of the popular Studio One software by PreSonus. GarageBand is free for Mac users, and is another great way to get into the world of DAWs. There are lots of great options out there, many with free trial versions. As a teacher, I prize ease of use pretty highly, and all three of the DAWs mentioned above perform well in that category.

So there you have it, a bare-bones but hopefully useful guide to recording equipment for the classical musician. There are so many other great tutorials online that I felt it unnecessary to go into too much depth about any of the various components. Far more knowledgeable contributors have written and recorded excellent demonstrations on a plethora of recording topics. Among my favorites is a series produced by Murray State University. See below for the links:

If you’re a novice like me, it’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed by all of the technical information on recording. However, as a 21st-century teacher and performer I felt I owed it to myself and my students to learn something about technology which has become so ubiquitous. It took me a little while to wrap my head around the basics, but now that I have a grasp on them I’m excited to experiment with different microphone setups and other parameters. If you are curious what the gear mentioned above sounds like, here is a rehearsal recording made using it. The excerpt is from the Trio for Horn, Trombone, and Tuba by Frigyes Hidas, which my colleagues and I will be performing this summer at the International Trombone Festival and the International Horn Symposium. It was recorded in a small classroom using a fairly close X/Y pattern microphone setup. So that you can get a clear sense of how the equipment performed, no editing has been done other than trimming the beginning and end of the clip in Audacity. I’m very pleased with how everything worked, and am looking forward to recording with this equipment in our recital hall and other venues.

 

Summer Project: Solo and Chamber Music Repertoire List

One long-postponed project I began this summer was to create an annotated list of the solo and chamber music pieces I’ve performed over the last 20 years. I should have begun this project years ago, but my memory has generally been good enough to keep track of most of the details about my performances. Additionally, most of the information is preserved in the form of old programs in either electronic or hard copy format. I always told myself if I really wanted to know the last time I performed a work I could dig back through my files and find out. This is of course easier in theory than in practice, and the benefits of having all the info in a central place outweigh the time and effort it has taken to put it together.  It’s nothing fancy, just a Google doc that I can update as new works are added. It contains the following fields:

  • Composer
  • Title
  • Instrumentation
  • Year Performed

In the “Year Performed” field I’m also making a note if the work was performed at a conference and/or was commissioned by me. Here’s a small screenshot showing the first few entries. (If you would like to see the complete list please email me and I would be glad to send you a copy).

While I do have access to the majority of my solo and chamber music programs, the list is not complete, for a variety of reasons.

  • There are some works that I know I’ve performed, but don’t have documentation to prove it or to provide the year. These include works performed for studio and/or master classes, works performed on tours, and other situations where a printed program was not produced. I’m debating what to do about these works; perhaps I’ll just put the info down and give my best guess as to the year.
  • In most cases I did not include arrangements or occasional works like Christmas and other holiday selections. To keep the list to a manageable size I needed to draw the line somewhere. One exception to this is arrangements which are major works in the repertoire, like Robert King’s brass trio arrangement of the Beethoven Trio, Op. 87 for example.

If you don’t already have a list like this, I strongly recommend starting one, regardless of your level. It’s very easy to set up, and the information will come in handy for future recital programming and other endeavors. Trust me, the longer you wait, the more difficult the task will be!

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!

 

The Daily Routine: A Modular Approach

While working on a forthcoming project, I’ve been thinking a lot about routines, and how the various exercises we choose to play each day can be structured. For much of my playing career, I’ve tended to choose one routine and stick with it for an extended period of time. Recently, however, I’ve been experimenting with putting together a routine by selecting various exercises from multiple sources. I still cover all of the basics: sound production, flexibility, range work, technique, etc., but instead of playing literally the same exercises for days on end, I have been rotating through sets of similar exercises. This modular approach has been lots of fun to play around with, and has the added benefit of keeping me interested and engaged in what I’m doing every day. There are certain parts of the routine that stay more or less the same, but after the first 15 minutes or so I begin to vary things. Here’s where I’m getting my material these days:

For ease of use, I photocopy exercises (or groups of exercises) out of each collection and keep them together in the same folder. From these pages I choose exercises which best fit my needs for upcoming performances. As an example, I’ve been focusing on high range and endurance a bit more in preparation for some contemporary repertoire at the New Music on the Bayou Festival, as well as a recording session in June.

Of the items listed above, William Vacchiano’s book is probably the least familiar to horn players. Jeff Nelsen introduced me to this collection several months ago, and it’s been really fun working through some of the studies in it. Vacchiano was a legendary orchestral player and teacher, and his book actually contains 11 complete routines. The exercises are generally pretty short (less than a page usually), and incorporate many of the important trumpet excerpts in the orchestral repertoire. As compared to horn routines, these studies are more technical and tend to emphasize the high range. While I don’t recommend using them exclusively, several exercises work pretty well on horn. Here are two of my favorites.

Don’t these sound fun? I usually balance these out with some low range and stopped horn work.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you throw away your trusted routine. In fact, it’s taken me a long time to feel comfortable enough with my own playing to try swapping things in and out of my routine. If used correctly, a good routine instills confidence, while at the same time being challenging enough to promote growth. If the modular approach appeals to you, begin by substituting a small portion of your regular routine (5 minutes or less) and see what you think.

On a related note, I’m very excited to dive into Jeffrey Agrell’s new book Horn Technique: A New Approach to an Old InstrumentIn the Introduction, Agrell suggests a similar modular approach to the daily routine.

Musicians and Taxes

As we head into tax preparation season, I would like to share a brief personal anecdote about filing my taxes both as an educator and as a freelance musician. The following does not constitute tax advice of any kind, and to cut right to the chase, the moral of my story is to consult a tax professional. Even if you prepare and file your returns yourself, it might be beneficial to sit down with an expert to go over anything you might have missed.

For years I filed my own returns using the standard software. I was never audited, and usually satisfied with the result. However, I normally encountered at least a few tricky questions that weren’t easily answered by the computer. If you’ve ever used tax preparation software, you probably know what I’m talking about. If the program detects anything anomalous in your return, it won’t let you file until the problem is resolved. After several years of feeling like I was missing something in my self-prepared return, I decided to ask around and find an accountant who was comfortable working with musicians. One of my colleagues in the Shreveport Symphony recommended a CPA firm, and I set up a meeting. That was four years ago, and I haven’t looked back since. In short, having a professional prepare our tax return was a great decision for my family.

If you decide to do the same, here are a few tips that might help:

  • Ask around before choosing a CPA or other tax professional. Consult both in and out of your field, but try to find someone who has experience working with musicians. An experienced professional can help you identify deductions you weren’t aware of. For example, here is an incomplete list of possible  deductions to ask your tax professional about.
    • Travel/Lodging
    • Membership Fees for Professional Organizations
    • Conference registration fees
    • Cell Phone/Internet
    • Meals
    • Instrument Repair/Cleaning
    • Dry cleaning costs for tuxes, suits, other professional attire
    • Equipment, sheet music, recordings
    • Teaching supplies
  • Keep track of mileage and expenses. This is easier than ever now with the plethora of apps, online templates, and other tools for tracking expenses. I use Expensify to log my mileage and catalog receipts, but also keep electronic and hard copies of all my receipts. A quick search of the Apple or Android store will yield lots of options for apps.
  • Collect all of your paperwork and total up your expenses before meeting with your tax preparer. I like to keep all of my official documents – W-2s, 1099s, royalty statements, etc. – in one folder, and supporting documents like receipts and mileage logs in another. Shortly after January 1, I sit down and total up mileage and itemize my expenses from the previous year. Doing so will save you time and headache when you meet with a CPA.
  • Don’t assume that a deduction is or isn’t allowed without confirmation. When in doubt, ask!

That’s all I have to say on this topic for now, but perhaps you will find some of this information useful. For another perspective on the same subject, check out this post on the website of Erin A. Paul, an active freelance hornist in New York City.

 

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