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.

Wednesday Review: Horn Fundamentals, by Bruno Schneider

Most horn players today are fortunate to have a wide variety of quality practice materials available to them. Using the internet, one can readily find dozens of great methods, etudes, and other exercises to purchase (for a list of some of them, see this article). One recent addition to these materials is Bruno Schneider‘s Horn Fundamentals, published by Editions Bim. Schneider is a well-known name among horn players, having performed extensively throughout the world as a soloist, chamber musician, and clinician. His collection contains many familiar patterns, as well as some new ones (or new approaches to familiar patterns). You might ask “Why buy another collection of the same old exercises?” – a valid question – and here are a few reasons. 1) As a teacher, I consider it part of my job to be aware of as many new publications as possible. I don’t buy every new publication that comes out, but rather try to go for a good sampling of what’s currently available. 2) Often what seems like “the same old exercises” really isn’t, either because of actual changes to the material or because of an updated or different pedagogical approach. 3) Having a variety of materials gives us options as players and teachers. Even if you are very satisfied with your current materials, you never know when you might come across your next favorite exercise. There are plenty more reasons, but hopefully this is sufficient to prove my case. At the very least, if you’re a professional musician and/or teacher you can deduct them on your taxes! Getting back to the matter at hand, here’s a summary of the contents in Horn Fundamentals.

  • Preface: I love this quote. “Efficiency in technical development requires patience, creative imagination, and a dedication to the ultimate goal of technical perfection…” (p. 2)
  • Flexibility: Lots of basic patterns using the harmonic series, covering a three-octave range.
  • Fast Flexibility: Builds on the materials from the previous section, but with faster and more difficult patterns. One interesting update to these otherwise familiar exercises is the inclusion of fingerings for E-flat alto as well as the customary F and B-flat.
  • Scales: Tw0-octave major and minor scales with a variety of articulations for comprehensive study. The most interesting thing to me about this chapter is that the scales are notated using the Grand Staff. It seems like such a simple thing, but I’ve rarely seen the concept of bass clef notation for horn players approached in this way. In using these particular exercises with a few younger students I noticed that they seemed to grasp the idea of bass clef much more quickly.
  • Intervals: Diatonic, chromatic, slurred, and tongued.
  • Articulations: Another very interesting set of exercises, focused mainly around developing finger dexterity and articulation clarity on short diatonic patterns.
  • Chromatic Exercises: Designed to help stabilize the mid-low range, and work through any embouchure breaks.
  • The Start of Sound: These are both accuracy exercises and long tone studies. Schneider notes that “The start of the note is a touchy moment which needs to be mastered in all dynamics throughout the entire register. The impulse which one gives before attacking the note is determining and corresponds to the pick up gesture of the conductor.” (p. 58) Articulation variations are included as well.
  • Exercises to Play Loud: Aimed at improving forte dynamics and beyond, these exercises are anything but subtle. Although not explicitly stated, it would be advisable to take short breaks between these exercises, and/or to play only a couple of them per practice session.

The typesetting is very clean, with plenty of space between staves and exercises. My only criticism is that it would be nice to have spiral binding so that the book lays flat on a music stand. Annotations are in French, German, and English. The price is fairly reasonable, especially for 76 pages of great exercises. If you’re looking to switch out some or all of your daily exercises, or if like me you just enjoy  studying and comparing different practice materials, Horn Fundamentals is a worthwhile addition to your library.

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