Horn teachers normally keep a running list – mental, physical, or both – of their favorite exercises for tackling various areas of horn technique, and the high range is no exception. There are dozens and dozens of great exercises, methods, and approaches for working on this range, and over time teachers develop their own approach to working on it with students. So why can the high register be challenging on the horn? One of the best explanations I’ve read is in Douglas Hill’s High Range for the Horn Player, published in 2005 by Really Good Music, LLC. He notes the following in the introduction.
The high range on the horn is often a problematic register for large numbers of young as well as for many advanced performers. The overall length of the instrument, the deep cup of the typical horn mouthpiece, and the necessity for the player to eventually administer a full four to four and a half octaves often causes younger players to seek and discover shortcuts to the high notes. These unfortunate shortcuts are often found by forcing: using too much facial tension and/or pinching at the aperture, or through too much mouthpiece pressure, especially against the top lip. Short-term results often become long-term problems!
While some players do experience quantum leaps in their high range – vast improvement in a short period of time -I think more often a good high range is developed over time by consistent practice. I like to vary my materials, as students can often get frustrated by working on the same exercise(s) day in and day out. The following list describes a few of my favorites – meaning those exercises that I keep coming back to both in my own playing and in lessons. They are quite simple, but really do seem to get at the specific technique required in the high range. In my opinion the best high range exercises are those that trick you into playing higher than you think you can play. Once you develop the technique, it doesn’t really feel like you have to work at all to play these.
William Brophy, Technical Studies for Solving Special Problems on the Horn, p. 16, Exercise No. 5 and Exercise No. 6 According to the author, Exercise No. 5 “utilizes the half-step approach to the upper notes but in major arpeggio form rather than scale-wise. In this exercise “ride” the tone on a healthy, steady, mezzo-forte air stream.” I use this exercise primarily as a way to check on my air and tongue placement in the high range. If things aren’t working right I can tell immediately and make adjustments if necessary. Exercise No. 6 is a classic pattern familiar to many players, and uses the harmonic series to develop high range. I like to add crescendos and diminuendos as appropriate to help work on the necessary air speed for high playing.
James Stamp, Warm-Ups and Studies for Trumpet and Other Brass Instruments, p. 9, No. 5 This pattern is great for working on air speed and power in the high range. For more information on James Stamp and his routine, check out the series of articles at LivMusic. This blog is maintained by Craig Morris, Professor of Trumpet at the University of Miami.
The last exercise is one I developed a few years ago, and I use portions of it everyday in my own routine. The idea behind this exercise is once again to trick yourself into playing higher than you think possible and with only the minimum amount of effort required. The “flick” concept is of course borrowed from Philip Farkas in The Art of French Horn Playing. As with many other high range exercises, this one starts in a comfortable register to establish the proper habits without any unnecessary tension. Brief instructions are included, and you can download the complete exercise here: High Register Exercise – Horn World
As with just about anything, the key to developing a high range on the horn is to keep a good attitude and to go about things in a logical and informed way. I realize that I’ve only scratched the surface in terms of the excellent materials out there, and I would love to hear about your own favorite high range exercises.