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.


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) (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)


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.

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.

Long Tones: A Love/Hate Relationship

This semester I added long tones back into my practice routine, and I’ve noticed some positive results over the past several weeks. To clarify, I normally play long tones in my warm-up routine, but it’s been a few years since I did any additional long tone work during the day. In graduate school I practiced them regularly, using ear plugs to protect my hearing in the mostly tile and glass practice rooms at UW-Madison. Over time, though, I felt like the long tone exercises I was doing were tiring out my chops rather than helping. Perhaps I wasn’t doing them correctly, or perhaps I was doing too much strenuous playing in addition to the long tones, but at any rate that experience turned me off to those kinds of exercises for a long time. However, after reading Eli Epstein’s Horn Playing from the Inside Out, I was inspired to pick them back up using the routine he provides in the book. His exercises are similar to many others, but they incorporate breath attacks and plenty of rest to help keep things fresh. They are still tiring, but the benefits outweigh the drawbacks this time. Some of the benefits include more secure attacks, a more consistent tone across the range and at various dynamics, and improved endurance. Are these improvements due entirely to the long tones? Probably not, but I think they have definitely contributed. If you find yourself getting bored with long tones, try changing up your routine, or cycling through variations of the same exercise over a week or so. Not convinced that long tones can be beneficial? You don’t have to take my word for it; just consider these quotes about long tones from several noted pedagogues.

Verne Reynolds, The Horn Handbook, p. 32

We never outgrow our need for long tones. They allow us to concentrate on

  1. breathing techniques
  2. body support
  3. attack and response
  4. intonation
  5. release
  6. mouthpiece pressure

Douglas Hill, Collected Thoughts on Teaching and Learning, Creativity, and Horn Performancep. 20

There is no one single type of exercise that receives more praise from one group of players and more disdain from the other than long tones. “Long tones are boring!” “Long tones solved all of my problems!” Extremes perhaps, but both are true to an extent.

Randy Gardner, Mastering the Horn’s Low Registerp. 19

Many aspects of superb tone production can be related to the steady air stream that the performance of long tones mandates.

Frøydis Ree Wekre, Thoughts on Playing the Horn Well, p. 26

Long tones can be practised in many different ways. Some people find them boring and stiffening, but I find them interesting and strengthening. I do prefer them, however, in the evening rather than in the morning.

Wendell Rider, Real World Horn Playingp. 65

As brass players, we need to develop a secure sense of tone and pitch by playing relatively simple exercises that allow us to focus on a minimum of variables. Long tones let us concentrate on the air flow and a relaxed, consistent vibration.

Barry Tuckwell, Playing the Horn, p. 32

Long Notes: The term is self-explanatory; however, the object in playing long notes on brass instruments is to develop a sure control of breathing and embouchure…Always try to maintain a beautiful sound at all times. (Long notes are tiring and care should be taken not to play beyond certain limits.) If at all possible, every note from pedal F to top C should be played each day, but if undue strain is felt it may be a good idea to curtail this exercise.

Richard Deane, The Efficient Approach: Accelerated Development for the Hornp. 56

Long tone exercises in their many forms can be tedious and somewhat strenuous, but should never be “boring” because, of all the daily exercises we do, these actually give the most useful feedback to the player.

Eli Epstein, Horn Playing from the Inside Out (electronic version, so page numbers vary)

Playing daily long tones has long-term benefits: We develop excellent breath control, a round, clear, centered sound, and stable pitch as we change dynamic levels. The more quality we infuse into long tones, the more we get out of them. A famous principal horn player calls them “quality tones.”

More Horn-Related Websites

Here’s a selection of interesting websites related to the horn. Some are new, and some have been around for awhile but I only recently stumbled across them. Enjoy!

  • Sarah Willis: Ms. Willis is a member of the Berlin Philharmonic’s world class horn section, and also an active teacher, soloist, clinician, and all around promoter of all things horn. Her new site is interactive and well-designed, and regularly features live streaming interviews with notable horn players from all over the world. Add this site to your bookmarks list now!
  • Englebert Schmid Horn Forum: I’m a big fan of Englebert Schmid‘s horns, as are many other players. His triple horns are fast becoming a standard in the field. Herr Schmid recently added this forum via a link from his website, and while much of the content is in German it does include a couple of threads in English on the topic of horn maintenance. One particularly interesting point in both discussions – one aimed at repair professionals and the other aimed at players – is that Schmid does not recommend chemically (or ultrasonically) cleaning his horns every year. NB: The server seems to be down for the moment, but hopefully it will be back up soon.
  • Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse: This well-established professional quartet has maintained a website for some time, but I only recently spent a few minutes perusing their content. One of the gems is a free booklet called The Young Horn Player’s Guide. The guide is full of tips, exercises, and other useful information for horn players of all levels.
  • Looking for more handouts to supplement your current teaching materials?  Check out these other websites.

A Basic Horn Warm-Up

In preparation for an upcoming presentation on warm-ups and routines for horn at the 2011 Louisiana Music Educator’s Association State Conference, I’ve been going back through some of my materials, including this brief routine (see .pdf link at the end of this post) I put together a few years ago.  It is heavily based on other routines, but is designed to be playable by almost any level of student.  In my teaching I was looking for a warm-up that beginning students could basically sight-read, so I compiled and edited several familiar patterns until I arrived at something that worked for even my youngest students (junior high).  It doesn’t have anything fancy, but covers all the basics.  One of the first things I ask younger students in lessons (and the older ones too) is whether they have a regular warm-up and routine.  If they don’t, I usually recommend this one as a starting point, which can later be traded up in favor of a longer, more developed routine.

In my presentation I’ve divided things into what I consider to be the essential components of a warm-up:

  • breathing
  • buzzing
  • long tones
  • scales/arpeggios (slurred and tongued)

And the optional (more along the lines of a routine rather than a warm-up):

  • Range development
  • Double/Triple tonguing
  • Lip trills
  • Stopped Horn
  • Transposition
  • Flexibility exercises
  • Improvisation

There are more categories that could be included, but these should be enough to start a nice discussion of the various approaches to warming up.   I understand that time is always an issue for any high school band director, and many directors use a standard warm-up routine for the entire band.  I think this is great, and my warm-up is intended as a supplement to whatever a director is currently using.  Most of the routine can be played in 15-20 minutes, or if time is of the essence the bare minimum can be done in 5-10 minutes.  As an extension to the standard breathing, buzzing, long tones, and lip slurs, this routine also includes all the major and minor scales and arpeggios in a one octave pattern.  The pattern is designed to provide a variety of dynamics and articulations, something often missing when students practice scales.  The one octave patterns can easily be expanded to two or three.

My general goal with this presentation is to get more horn students to warm-up regularly before rehearsing, practicing, or performing. Once they get into a pattern of warming up, I think the students and their directors will notice big improvements in their playing – always a plus!

Long Tones in the Warm-Up

A few years ago I attended a master class presented by a well known brass soloist, and eventually someone brought up the topic of warming up.  The clinician asked the audience, “How many of you begin your warm-up with long tones?” Dutifully, most of us raised our hands – more or less assuming that this was a rhetorical question.  To our surprise his response was something like “actually I don’t recommend using long tones to warm up.”  Well, our faces must have shown what we were thinking, because he then gave the following explanation for why long tones might not be the best thing to do first thing in a warm-up.  He first noted that there are lots of parallels between music and sports, and then asked what professional athletes do to warm up. “Do they do this?”, he asked, and struck a pose like the image at the beginning of this post – a runner suspended in mid stride.  He then started jogging, and said, “no, they do this to warm up.”  The point I believe he was making is that he prefers a more dynamic way to start his playing day – not dynamic in the sense of volume – but dynamic in the sense of moving notes (dynamic) rather than held notes (static).

At the time I filed this bit of information away under the heading “hmm, that’s interesting.”  For that player it obviously worked fabulously, so there is definitely something to be said for using scales or other kinds of patterns in place of the traditional long tones in the warm-up.  However, after some more consideration, and looking at several (20+) warm-ups and daily routines for horn, I can also see the other side of the coin.  I too think there are many apt comparisons between music – particularly brass playing – and sports, and so I started thinking about how athletes warm up.  Yes, they often do some dynamic movements, such as jogging, jumping, or other types of calisthenics, but they also do this (see image at left).  To me, this type of stretching in place seems analogous to the use of long tones in a warm up.  One other thing to note about long tones is that they may seem static because the pitch stays the same for long periods, but in order to play them correctly the air has to stay in motion, not to mention any subtle movements going on at the aperture and inside the mouth.  If played incorrectly (too high/too loud), long tones at the beginning of the day could cause stiffness and/or lack of endurance later – perhaps this is what the clinician was getting at in his presentation.  However, I do think they can serve as a useful warm-up or re-warm-up if they are played in a comfortable range and at a medium dynamic.  It’s probably best to save the envelope-pushing long tones for later in the day. In looking at some of the standard (and not so standard) warm-ups for horn, I noticed that about 70% of them began with some type of long tone exercise, while nearly 100% included them somewhere in the routine.  Long tones are here to stay, but there is plenty of room for variation on when and how we practice them.  In the warm-up it’s especially important to find a pattern or set of patterns that works for you, regardless of what I or anyone else says. Whether you start the day with long tones, chromatic scales, or another kind of pattern, I encourage you to try something else every once in a while, just to see what happens.  Who knows, you might just discover a more efficient way to warm up.

More Warm-Ups and Routines for Horn

Earlier this year I posted a series on warm-ups and routines for the horn, which in turn was based on an article I was working on for The Horn Call. To continue with that series I thought I’d go ahead and post the full list of the twenty-two routines I looked at for the article (which should hopefully be appearing in the May, 2011 issue of  The Horn Call). I’ve included links for these publications, where available.  The list is by no means comprehensive, but I think it does give a good representation of the kind of materials available.  Please feel free to comment with other routines you have found useful for yourself or students, even if they are not currently in print.

Carmine Caruso, Musical Calisthenics for Brass, Almo/Irving Music, 1979. See also

Richard Deane, The Efficient Approach: Accelerated Development on the Horn, Atlanta Brass Society Press, 2009.

James Decker, The Master Class Series for Horn, Interactive Video Audition Systems International, 1990.

Louis Dufrasne, Dufrasne Routine edited by Thomas Bacon, Southern Music Company, 2005.

Eli Epstein, Power Warm-up for Horn, Self-Published, 1999.

John Ericson, Introducing the Horn: Essentials for New Hornists and their Teachers, Horn Notes Edition, 2007.

Philip Farkas, The Art of French Horn Playing, Summy-Birchard, 1956.

Douglas Hill, Warm-ups and Maintenance Sessions for the Horn Player, Really Good Music, LLC, 2001.

Michael Hoeltzel, Mastery of the French Horn: Technique and Musical Expression, Schott, 2006.

Ifor James, Warming Up, Editions Marc Reift, 1999.

Sam Pilafian and Patrick Sheridan, The Brass Gym: A Comprehensive Daily Workout for Brass Players edited for Horn by John Ericson, Focus on Music, LLC, 2007.

Max. P. Pottag, Daily Exercises for French Horn, Belwin Mills, 1941, 1969.

Verne Reynolds, The Horn Handbook, Amadeus Press, 1997. [out of print, try Amazon for a used copy]

Wendell Rider, Real World Horn Playing, Wendell Rider Publications, 2006.

Gunther Schuller, Horn Technique, Oxford University Press, 1962, 1992.

Joseph Singer, Embouchure Building for French Horn compiled and edited by Richard E. Ballou,
Belwin, 1956.

James Stamp, Warm-ups and Studies: Trumpet and Other Brass Instruments, Editions Bim, 1978, 1981, 1998, 2005.

Forrest Standley, Standley Routine for Horn in F edited by Gene Standley and H. Stephen Hager, Southern Music Company, 2002.

David B. Thompson, Daily Warm-up and Workout for Horn, Thompson Edition, 1994.

Barry Tuckwell, Playing the Horn: A Practical Guide, Oxford University Press, 1978. [out of print, try Amazon for a used copy]

Frøydis Ree Wekre, Thoughts on Playing the Horn Well, Norhornpress, 1994.

Milan Yancich, A Practical Guide to French Horn Playing, Wind Music, Inc., 1970.

When to Change Routines

As a follow up to the previous series, “Warm-ups and Routines You May Not Know,” I thought it would be a good idea to consider some of the reasons why you might even want to consider a new routine in the first place.  The following are just some of the questions to think about as you evaluate your existing warm-up and daily routine.

“How does my embouchure feel after I’ve played my entire routine?  Are my chops tired, or fresh and ready to continue playing (after a short rest)?”

“Following a strenuous day of playing, does my routine the next day help me put things back together, or does it wear me down even more?”

“Is my routine adaptable to different time constraints?  Can I be ready to play in a shorter amount of time than it takes to complete the entire routine?”

“How well does my routine prepare me for the types of playing I normally do?”

“How well does my routine fit with my current work or school schedule?”

“Does playing through my routine instill confidence in my abilities, or cause frustration?”

“Are there aspects of other routines I want to combine with my current routine, and if so, is it feasible?”

“Is my routine too difficult/too easy for my current ability level?”

“Does my routine continue to remind me why I play the horn, or has it become boring and mind numbing?”

Bear in mind that you don’t necessarily need to change your entire routine to remedy some of the above issues.  Simply working in some slight modifications or other materials can make a world of difference.  If you aren’t interested in using a different routine but want to tweak your current one, try varying the order and/or amount of rest between sections.  Summer time is a great opportunity to try out these modifications or sample different materials.  Even if you don’t end up changing anything, working with a different routine or routines for a few days or weeks can help remind you what it is you like about your current one, and give you fresh ideas.

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