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!

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: New E-Books for Horn

As noted earlier this year, I have a backlog of new publications, recordings, and other items that I’m slowly working through in my review series. This week we’ll look at three electronic publications related to teaching the horn, I Like to Practice Scalesby Ricardo Matosinhos, Introducing the Horn, 2nd ed., by John Ericson, and A Mello Catechism2nd ed., also by John Ericson. All three are geared towards younger students and their teachers, but can also be quite useful for other levels as well.

Portuguese hornist Ricardo Matosinhos is extremely active as a performer, educator, composer, and author, and is probably best known for his series of jazz-inspired etudes published through Phoenix Music Editions. In I Like to Practice Scaleshe presents a logical, systematic way for students to progress through all the major and minor scales, with arpeggios. There are many other methods which seek to achieve the same goal, but what sets this one apart is the manner in which those scales are presented. Rather than assigning individual scales in their entirety – which can be quite a lot of material to digest for the younger student – he begins with exercises based on only the first note of each scale, moving through a circle of fourths progression. Two note exercises follow, then three notes, and so on, with each series following the same tonal language. Detailed theoretical discussions are omitted by design – the subtitle of the book is “First comes the practice, then the theory…” – with the emphasis placed on developing fluency first. I really like this approach, as I think it mimics the way we learn our native language(s) as children. Imagine explaining the intricacies of grammar to a child  (or adult) who only spoke a few words of a language – the conversation would break down once the limits of their vocabulary had been reached. Yet how often do we try to explain key signatures, major and minor keys, and other theoretical concepts to beginning musicians, who have the same limited vocabulary? As in spoken languages, theory is of course important, but makes much more sense once the student reaches a certain degree of fluency. The first several exercises make great material for newer students, and the later ones will provide a nice challenge for the advancing player, particularly in the low register. I Like to Practice Scales is available from the International Horn Society’s Online Music Sales page.

First published in 2007, John Ericson‘s Introducing the Horn provides a concise, effective way to give beginning horn players a great start on the instrument. The newly revised edition, available in both hardcopy and E-Book formats, takes into account the increasingly fast pace of college level brass methods courses. The reality today is that there simply will not be enough time to cover all of the potential difficulties and pitfalls of each brass instrument in a one or two semester course, and the best that many instructors can hope to do is provide an overview and a list of resources for future study. There are lots of comprehensive methods covering all of the brass instruments, but it is also recommended that brass methods instructors supplement their main text with handouts and specialist publications like Introducing the Horn. The layout and progression of topics is very practical, and all of the important points are covered. The “Suggestions and Tips for Music Educators” and “Horn Maintenance Tips” included in the appendix are by themselves worth the very reasonable price of the E-Book version. Every band director, veteran or rookie, should own a copy of this book! Download it today from the Horn Notes Edition website.

A Mello Catechism (1st ed. 2007, 2nd ed. 2013) is another book which should be on the shelves of every horn teacher and band director. Though the instrument is often met with resistance and even downright hatred from horn players and their teachers, many high school and even college players spend a significant amount of time performing on it. To my knowledge, Ericson is one of only a few high level horn teachers to devote any time to the instrument, and his book holds an important place in the pedagogical literature. It covers a little bit of everything, from history and nomenclature to tips for band directors and arrangers. On a personal note, I found the book an invaluable resource during my first few years of full time college teaching. Early in the fall semester I spent (and still spend) time working with local band students, who are feverishly preparing their marching shows for the upcoming football season. While I certainly knew about the mellophone, it had been several years since I actually played one myself, and I turned to A Mello Catechism for guidance, advice, and exercises to use when working with the students. I have also taught a number of private lessons on the mellophone, which can be quite a different animal entirely from the horn. Regardless of your personal opinions about the mellophone, if you teach the horn at an level chances are you will encounter it at some point along the way. I think it is much more productive to be prepared and helpful to your students, rather than dismissing the instrument entirely. A Mello Catechism is available from the Horn Notes Edition website.



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