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)

 

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.

Brief Review: Horn Technique by Jeffrey Agrell

During the summer I tend to take a break from reading horn-related books and articles, reading more science fiction and other types of “for-pleasure” stuff than I do during the academic year. This summer, though, I made it a point to dive into Professor Jeffrey Agrell’s magnum opus, Horn Technique: A New Approach to an Old Instrument. As John Ericson noted in his review on Horn Matters, a “brief” review of this nearly 500-page tome is next to impossible. But…if I could offer only two words about Professor Agrell’s new book, they would be “buy it!” You won’t find a more thoughtful, comprehensive, top-to-bottom, nuts and bolts discussion of horn playing anywhere. In a holistic yet meticulously detailed way, Agrell addresses not only horn playing, but overall musicianship as well. While many of the chapters cover traditional material – warming up, practice strategies, fingering, etc. – Agrell’s approach is always fresh and full of unique ways to tackle familiar problems. Jeff loves to challenge our (mis)conceptions, and brings to bear decades of teaching and performing experience. In some ways, though, the title is misleading, as Horn Technique is much more ambitious in its scope. Agrell proposes a reboot of the traditional way we approach music education. Instead of obsessing about note names and fingerings as beginners, we ought to learn music the way babies learn spoken language – through imitation, improvisation, and memorization of brief patterns which can be built upon later. Only once those basics are mastered should notation be introduced.

Stepping back a bit, here are some of the big themes I took away from Horn Technique. There are certainly more, but these are the ones that jumped out to me.

  • Horn (and all brass) players need to have a detailed working knowledge of the overtone (harmonic) series. We need to know the overtone series number and intonation tendency for every note on the horn – Agrell calls this “horn math.”
  • Warm-ups and practice sessions should begin without using the valves (all overtone series) and then progress to using the valves. Historically, the horn developed this way, and it makes sense from a physical perspective as well. Many of the exercises in Horn Technique begin without valves and add valves later.
  • We need to know how to apply our knowledge of music theory to create real-world practice strategies. Agrell walks the reader through this approach, showing us first how to identify and analyze patterns, and then to create our own custom exercises based on those patterns.
  • Less Notes, More Music. One of the big principles in Horn Technique is that we spend entirely too much time with our heads buried in a music stand. Agrell advocates for more notation-free practice. Related to this, Agrell is also a big proponent of performing from memory.
  • Question Everything! At the heart of this book is the idea of questioning traditional approaches to horn playing. There is of course much to be learned from the great players and teachers of the past, but Agrell asks that we be willing to consider alternative methods along with traditional ones.

Although I’ve read the entire book cover to cover, I’ve only just begun to dig into Horn Technique. The principles and exercises in it will keep both my students and me occupied for some time. And at $19.99 for the hard copy, this is an incredibly affordable text.

Descant Horn “Hacks”

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

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

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

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

Happy practicing!

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.

Friday Review: Horn Playing from the Inside Out, 3rd Edition, by Eli Epstein

epstein_thirdedIn today’s review we’ll look at another great pedagogical text, Horn Playing from the Inside Out, by Eli Epstein, now in a revised 3rd edition. I first reviewed this book back in 2012, saying:

I really can’t find any faults with this book, and highly recommend it to anyone interested in improving not just their horn playing, but overall musicianship and well being. Horn Playing from the Inside Out approaches even the most challenging techniques from a very matter-of-fact, can-do perspective, which is infectious! With this book, Mr. Epstein has gone a long way towards taking the mystery out of horn technique.

At the time I was preparing for a solo recital, a recording session, and an orchestral audition, and found Epstein’s book to be incredibly helpful in all three endeavors.  The chapters on vowels and managing performance anxiety were particularly useful for me. Since 2012, Mr. Epstein has published two more editions of his book, incorporating the latest scientific and pedagogical information available. If you don’t own a copy of the first or second edition, the third edition is a must, and even if you already own the book it’s worth taking a look at this new edition. Here’s a brief look at content created or modified since the first edition.

  • Expanded and more detailed sections on breathing, vowels, articulation, and dynamics, informed by the latest real-time MRI imagery. Eli Epstein and Dr. Peter Iltis have created a YouTube channel to introduce the world to this exciting new realm of research. Explanations in the book are accompanied by detailed MRI images, which help us to visualize difficult concepts.
  • New chapter on Finger-Breathing, which also has an accompanying YouTube video.
  • Revised commentary and tips on several of the most-requested orchestral excerpts, which have been recorded by the author and are available on iTunes.
  • An appendix on How to Choose a Horn: This is one of the most comprehensive and practical guides to choosing a new instrument that I have seen.

There are numerous other tweaks and updates in this new edition, but the above list hits on most of the major ones. While the first edition was (and is) fantastic as a standalone text, the addition of videos and recordings as companions to the third edition make it even more valuable for horn teachers and students. Part pedagogical treatise, part practical handbook, Horn Playing from the Inside Out should be in every horn player’s library.

Friday Review: Low Range for the Horn Player, by Douglas Hill

hill-low-rangeReturning to my review series, which has been on hiatus for several months, we have a new edition of a publication by Douglas Hill, Low Range for the Horn Player. Originally published by Really Good Music, this new engraving has been made available through the efforts of Daren Robbins, Editor of the International Horn Society’s Online Music Sales program.

If you are unfamiliar with this book, it is part of a series of publications by Hill covering several technical issues in horn playing. Other titles in the series include High Range for the Horn Player and From Vibrato to Trills to Tremolos…for the Horn Player.  While in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I had the opportunity to preview draft versions of the high range and trill books, and the low range book was published a few years after I left. Being very familiar with Hill’s teaching and previous publications, I was excited to review this book, which provides numerous tips and exercises for developing one’s low register. Hill’s explanations are practical and to the point, including a Detailed Checklist as a well as a Quick-fix Checklist for low playing. Many of the exercises were familiar to me, but there were also quite a few new ones. In addition to the traditional methods of developing the low range – long tones, pivot/shift, power exercises – many novel approaches are presented, including the use of flutter tonguing as well as multiphonics. Hill is clearly a master pedagogue of the instrument, and brings to bear forty-plus years of teaching experience in his approach to the low range. If one of the exercises doesn’t work for you or your students, there are sure to be several that do. Perhaps the next step for this publication, and others of its type, is to produce short video demonstrations of the exercises and concepts. Having an aural example to refer to or play along with would be very useful I think.
In summary, Low Range for the Horn Player should be required reading for all serious students of the horn. While it may not earn the same glory as the high range, the low tessitura is an equally important and rewarding area of performance and pedagogy.

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