Thoughts on The Randy Gardner Accuracy Challenge

Several months ago, I stumbled across the Facebook page for the horn studio at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Under the expert tutelage of Randy Gardner, the studio consistently produces  great horn players and teachers.  One post on their Facebook page that caught my eye mentioned the “Randy Gardner Accuracy Challenge.”  Intrigued, I followed the link to the blog of Rachel Hockenberry, a horn studio graduate assistant at CCM. On her blog she explains how the challenge came to exist, and how to execute it.

Never forgetting about his students during the summer, one of a few summer projects Mr. Gardner assigned us is what I will refer to as the Randy Gardner Accuracy Challenge, or simply The Challenge. Mr. Gardner created and subjected himself to this exercise over the course of a summer during his college years. The Challenge requires the participant to own book 1 of the Maxime-Alphonse 200 Etudes nouvelles melodies et progressives pour cor. Here’s how you play:

1. Open your Maxime-Alphonse to the first page.
2. Play the first etude PERFECTLY three times IN A ROW. Do not miss a note. Do not even let so much as an unclean attack make its way into your performance. Follow all articulations, dynamics, phrasing and tempi.
3. If you miss a note, DO NOT STOP. Finish the etude, then start over.
4. If you mess up in your second or third repetition, you must complete the repetition and then start over again at performance #1. For example: if you miss a note in the middle of your second repetition, you must play to the end of the etude, and then start over with attempt #1.
5. You guessed it: even if you miss the very last note of your third repetition, you must start the cycle over again. You must play the etude perfectly three times IN A ROW before you can move on to the next etude.
6. Repeat this process for all 70 etudes.
Rachel goes on to explain that for the sake of one’s sanity the challenge should not be attempted for more than 10-15 minutes a day. I think this kind of competition with oneself is a great idea, provided that it is approached in a healthy, positive way (as Rachel is doing). Though I haven’t tried this with the first Maxime-Alphonse book (perhaps another summer project?), I have done something very similar in the past when preparing excerpts for auditions, or solo passages in orchestral and chamber music. As Rachel mentions later, challenges like this are “predominately an exercise in concentration,” though a certain amount of physical stamina is also required to be successful.  I also think that a good preparatory activity to tackling extended accuracy exercises is to try just one line of the etude or solo you’re working on. Once that line is mastered to the “three times perfectly” point, then add the next line, and so on.  For more difficult music, the accuracy drills may have to begin with only a few measures at a time.  Whatever shape your own accuracy challenge takes, the important point is to spend a few minutes every day focusing on it. If Maxime-Alphonse Book 1 isn’t your idea of a good time,  go with folk tunes, pop music, or whatever you like. Another resource for accuracy exercises is Dr. Nicholas Smith’s Don’t Miss: Ideas, Concepts, and Exercises  Designed to Increase Accuracy on an Inaccurate Instrument.  It’s a very well thought-out book, and to my knowledge the only resource out there dedicated solely to accuracy on the horn.
Do you or your students use a variation on the “Randy Gardner Accuracy Challenge?”  If so, what materials do you use? [Image above linked from]
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