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!

Recital Day Routine

You’ve spent weeks and months preparing for that solo recital, and everything is prepared to the best of your ability. Your dress rehearsal went well, and you feel confident about the big day…now what? The recital day routine, like many other aspects of musical performance, should be contemplated and worked out well in advance. Over the years, I’ve arrived at a plan that helps me feel relaxed and ready to perform. After experimenting with different things, I’ve found something that works for me.

In a perfect world, we would have the freedom to clear our schedules on the day of a big performance or audition, and spend our time in quiet reflection until the appointed time. The reality though is that work and school schedules will proceed as usual, regardless of our own personal performance calendars. Feel free to use any (or none) of the following as you work out your own pre-recital routine!

  • Day Before: Get a “normal” amount of sleep the night before, usually defined as 7 to 9 hours for adults. If my schedule allows, I might sleep in for 10-15 minutes extra, but no more. I generally practice as I normally would, perhaps running the program one final time or spot checking places as necessary. Dinner the night before isn’t restrictive, but I am careful not to overindulge on anything too spicy or salty.
  • Morning: Follow my normal warm-up routine, but with some modifications (see below). Continue with my usual  teaching and/or meeting schedule. I also make sure to drink lots of water throughout the day (which I normally do). Here’s my typical recital day warm-up routine.
    • Breathing/Relaxation exercises (5 minutes)
    • One or two slow studies from Nancy Sullivan’s Flow Studies for Horn, or other similar materials.
    • 15-20 minutes of my normal maintenance routine (currently Douglas Hill’s Warm-ups and Maintenance Sessions for the Horn Player), then STOP. No more practice for the day. I might play briefly in some lessons if necessary, but in general I avoid too much extra playing throughout the day.
  • Lunch/Afternoon: Lunch as normal, but again avoiding anything too spicy or salty. Keep drinking water! For a 7:30 p.m. recital, I try to leave school by 4:00 p.m. if my schedule permits so that I can relax at home for an hour or so before dinner. Once at home, I “unplug” from work emails, social media, and pretty much anything that might be stress inducing! As an aside, this is my normal practice even on a non-recital day, and I have found it very helpful in sustaining a career without getting burned out. I might read, spend time with family, or simply sit quietly and visualize the upcoming performance. Time doesn’t usually permit going through the entire program in my mind’s ear, but starting each piece or movement internally can be helpful. *If you can’t make it back home from the office or school before recital time, find a quiet place free from distractions and do the same thing. Perhaps a brief phone call to family or a close friend to help settle your mind.
  • Dinner/Evening:  Eat a light dinner or even just a substantial snack, making sure that I eat enough to have energy but not so much that I feel overly full. This might take some experimenting to figure out. A typical recital day dinner for me might be a sandwich or a small helping of whatever is on our dinner menu at home. My go to snacks are fruits, almonds, and peanut butter. Anything that provides energy and doesn’t dry you out is good. I avoid too much caffeine, maybe having a cup of green tea after the meal/snack. Brush my teeth, change into recital clothes, and head to the hall by 6:00 or 6:15 p.m. (I have about a 20 minute commute).
  • At the Hall: I like to get to the hall in plenty of time to do some more relaxation/breathing exercises, and go through the same flow studies with which I began the day. I might add in some light flexibility or longish tones to loosen back up if necessary. By this time it’s close to 7:00 p.m., at which point I put the horn down and read or just sit back and relax. I try to touch base with any collaborators and/or stage hands on the recital, just to make sure they have everything they need from me. The house at my university generally opens at 7:15 p.m., and everything I need for the first half is on stage by this time. A few minutes before going out, I play a few flexibility exercises in the middle register, empty all the water out of my horn, and take several deep, relaxed breaths. Go out and have fun!

All of the above is subject to modification, and I would love to hear from other performers about their pre-recital routines. It’s a fascinating subject, with plenty of room for further study.

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.

Book Review: The Creative Hornist, by Jeffrey Agrell

During the summer months I usually make it a point to read both for business and pleasure. Throughout the academic year, many great books, articles, websites, and other forms of media come across my desk, but alas most of them get put aside in favor of more pressing tasks. Thankfully, the summer allows me to relax a bit and catch up on some reading. First on my list this year is Professor Jeffrey Agrell‘s new book The Creative Hornist: Essays, Rants, and Odes for the Classical Horn Player on Creative Music Making , which actually fits very nicely into both the business and pleasure category. His writing is well thought out, eminently practical, and just plain fun to read. It is an excellent companion to his book Horn Technique  (see review here), and contains both expanded versions of previously published articles (see The Horn Call) as well as new material. Those who are familiar with Agrell’s work will know that he has an incredibly fertile mind, full of intriguing thoughts on both large and small scales. As with Horn Technique, my mind boggled at the sheer amount of ideas found in these pages, any one of which could become the basis for extended study. To me, The Creative Hornist  is less horn-oriented than Horn Technique, and provides a template for teaching and studying on any instrument. The bottom line is if you are a musician, you should read this book! The topics he covers range everywhere from reinventing the dreaded undergraduate “scale test” to general ideas on creativity (the SCAMPER method).

Other chapters address ways to incorporate technology and improvisation into the traditional paradigm of horn lessons, which Agrell dubs the “Chicago Model” – i.e. the path to becoming the next Principal Horn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This is a path which Agrell acknowledges has great merit, but which can also result in a relatively narrow range of musical skills.

One theme that comes through in every chapter is that creativity takes work! But Agrell’s book takes the mystery out of what being creative actually is. Because teaching and learning this way goes against the established paradigm in music schools, it may initially present some difficulties. However, it is  arguably just as effective at training competent players and almost certainly better (in my opinion) at developing overall musicianship. Needless to say, I am eager to try some of these ideas with my students this fall.  The Creative Hornist  is a great summer read to keep you inspired and give you a running start for the fall semester. For more information, visit the book’s website, http://thecreativehornist.com/.

Warm-ups and Routines Available Online

We live in an exciting time for horn playing and brass playing in general. The quality of instruments, mouthpieces, and other equipment is incredibly high, with so many options at all price ranges. This applies to published materials as well, including warm-ups and routines. This post is not an attempt to address the plethora of printed materials, however. For an in-depth look at those routines, I highly recommend a dissertation by Dr. Alex Manners, An Annotated Guide to Published Horn Routines, 1940-2015 (D.M.A. dissertation, Arizona State University). Rather, this post is an attempt to compile a list of routines which are available online for no charge. Some of them are standalone routines, while others are contained in comprehensive methods. Authors and their affiliations are noted where available, with links (current as of this post) to download the materials. If you know of any others, please feel free to comment!

Carmine Caruso/Julie Landsman (Metropolitan Opera, Retired)

Louis-François Dauprat, Méthode de Cor (Adapted by François Brémont)

Heinrich Domnich, Méthode de Premier et de Second Cor

Frédéric Duvernoy, Méthode pour le Cor

Colin Dorman (Private Teacher, Freelance Performer)

Drop the Beat (Lanette Compton, Oklahoma State)

8notes.com (Author Not Listed)

Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse, Young Horn Players Guide

Horn Matters PDF Library (Bruce Hembd and John Ericson)

Oscar Franz, Grosse theoretisch-practische Waldhorn-Schule

Jacques François Gallay, Méthode pour le Cor, Op.54

Tony Halstead Routine and Companion (two separate links)

Jeremy Hansen (Tennessee Tech)

David Johnson (Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano, Switzerland, Formerly American Horn Quartet)

Daniel Katzen (The University of Arizona, Boston Symphony, Retired)

Henri Kling, Horn Schule

Ab Koster (Hochschule für Musik und Theater, Hamburg)

Émile Lambert,  Méthode complète et progressive de cor chromatique

Otto Langey, Tutor for French Horn

Amy Laursen (University of South Dakota)

Jeff Nelsen, “Long Tunes” (Indiana University)

James Welsh Pepper, Self Instructor for French Horn

Giovanni Punto, Méthode

Josef Schantl, School for the Horn

Larry Shudra (Music Teacher, Spring Branch ISD)

Student Brass (Author Not Listed)

Óscar Sala (Orchestra of Granada)

United States Army Field Band, French Horn Fundamentals

James Boldin (University of Louisiana Monroe)

 

Some Tips on Maintaining a Healthy Embouchure

Last week the ULM Brass Faculty gave a presentation on “Embouchure Health and Maintenance” during our weekly Recital Hour for music majors. We wanted to keep the talk somewhat informal, so each of us prepared some brief remarks based on our own experiences. Because of a family emergency, I was unable to attend the presentation. What follows here are the talking points for my part of the presentation. I hope you find them useful! Feel free to comment if you would like to add to or discuss any of these points.

Embouchure Health and Maintenance: Practical Tips for the College Student

James Boldin, D.M.A.

ULM Recital Hour 3/15/2018

…we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit… Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (1926)

The solution to frustration is reality. -Jeff Nelsen, Professor of Horn, Indiana University

Some Basic Principles

  • Strive to get a healthy amount of sleep each night.
  • Drink plenty of water (not soft drinks) throughout the day.
  • Strive to play fundamentals every day.
  • Strive to do some form of physical exercise every day.
  • Take a few minutes each day to silently relax and focus on breathing, with no other distractions.
  • (Re)Warm-up before each rehearsal with at least 5-10 minutes to spare before rehearsal begins.
  • Play some low/pedal notes at the end of the day to relax and loosen up.
  • Light massage and cool/warm compresses can help with stiffness.
  • Be aware of what is in your lip balm, and anything else you eat/drink/put on your face.
  • Expect your embouchure and playing mechanics to be influenced by what you did or did not do the day before.
  • Take days off only when absolutely necessary, and plan enough time to get back in shape. The 2:1 rule often applies. For every day off, it will take two days to get back to your original playing condition.
  • When working to increase practice time, range, endurance, volume, etc., do so gradually. Sudden changes can lead to future problems.
  • Be careful who you ask for advice, and where you look for it. If you ask someone for an opinion, you will usually get one. This does not mean it is correct or appropriate for you.

Further Reading

British Association for Performing Arts Medicine http://www.bapam.org.uk/

Lucinda Lewis, Broken Embouchures http://www.embouchures.com/

http://www.mountainpeakmusic.com/

Bruce Nelson, Ed. Also Sprach Arnold Jacobs: A Developmental Guide for Brass Musicians, Polymnia Press, 1996.

Andrew J. Pelletier, “Embouchure Health and Maintenance,” in The Horn Call: Journal of the International Horn Society, May, 1999. pp. 65-66.

30 Day Practice Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

New Routine Materials: Denise Tryon Routine and Marvin Howe’s The Advancing Hornist

In a post from earlier this  year, I talked about the benefits of adopting a modular approach to the daily routine. In short, rather than playing exactly the same exercises every single day, you instead compile a variety of things from each of the major categories of fundamentals. From these you can then rotate exercises in and out of your routine for variety and to address specific needs.

Getting to the subject of this post, I’ve recently been drawing upon two publications for use in my routine. The first is by Denise Tryon, formerly 4th Horn in the Philadelphia Orchestra, and now full time faculty at the Peabody Conservatory. Her routine is available as a PDF download, and comes with recordings and explanations by the author for all of the exercises. It’s not lengthy as far as routines go, but covers all of the basics in a very efficient way. Ms. Tryon mentions that once perfected the routine should only take about 25-30 minutes, although it might take as long as 45 at the beginning. Don’t be fooled by the seeming simplicity of these studies; when played correctly they are challenging and very effective. One other notable feature of this routine is the marketing. To my knowledge there are no physical materials to buy – the entire package is sold as a “course” through Ms. Tryon’s website, and everything is accessible online. In addition to the routine there is another course available dealing specifically with auditions and low horn excerpts. I’m really enjoying working out of this routine, and highly recommend it!

Another great collection of routine-type materials that has been around awhile but isn’t really talked about too much is Marvin Howe‘s The Advancing Hornist series. Edited by Randall Faust and available through Faust Music, this two-volume set contains some unique and progressive exercises that were really ahead of their time. I’ve been using the descending scale studies in my own practice routine, and the lip slurs and long tone duets during lessons. As someone who wasn’t that familiar with Marvin Howe’s pedagogy, it’s been interesting to note the similarities and differences among Howe and his contemporaries like Farkas, Schuller, and others. In many ways Howe was very forward-thinking, and his publications are certainly deserving of a place among the other great horn pedagogues of the 20th century. Both volumes are very reasonably priced, and well worth checking out.

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