Monday Video: Stopped Horn

As a supplement to an upcoming presentation on stopped horn at the 65th annual Midwest Clinic, I put together this brief video summarizing some of the main points about stopped horn technique.  The video is meant to accompany a handout and exercises, which you can download from the Midwest Clinic’s clinician page.  One note about the video is that since the focus is on stopped horn, I shot from the somewhat unusual bell-side angle.  Hopefully this gives a better view of the stopped horn hand position.

Stopped Horn Exercises

Out of all the special or “extended” techniques available on the horn, stopped horn is probably the most frequently requested.  One could even argue that stopped horn has now become so common place that it isn’t even really an extended technique any more.  However, lots of students have trouble with this technique, and for the busy school band or orchestra director, stopped horn can be a real headache!  Helping directors and students sort out stopped horn is a big interest of mine, and recently I’ve been reworking some handouts and exercises I have for an upcoming presentation at the annual Midwest Clinic.  One part that I will definitely be including is this set of exercises for developing stopped horn. They are very straightforward, and should work for players of varying abilities.  Feel free to edit them as necessary to suit you or your students.  However, I do recommend the following.

  1. Check intonation frequently with a tuner or drone.  Compare intonation from stopped to open positions.
  2. Insist upon a brassy, compact, and nasal stopped sound.Producing this sound quality, especially in the lower register, will require huge amounts of air!
  3. Check hand position frequently to check for air leaks.
  4. Rely solely on the ear for pitch accuracy at first, until muscle memory is developed.
  5. Take frequent breaks until endurance is developed.

If practiced daily, they can help establish a solid foundation for more advanced stopped horn effects.  Simplicity is the goal in these brief passages, and they progress from easy to difficult techniques.  Download the PDF here:  Stopped Horn Exercises

If you’re looking for more information on stopped horn, check out these previous posts.

Stopped Horn Excerpts, Part 2

In part 2 of this series on stopped horn excerpts, we’ll look at a few more orchestral works which feature prominent stopped horn parts, as well as an excerpt from the band literature.  In part 1 we focused on solo excerpts from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol and Rachmaninov’s The Rock , but in this post we’ll take a closer look at some section excerpts for stopped horn. The first, and probably most famous, tutti excerpt is found in the last movement of Tchaikvosky’s Symphony No. 6, Op. 74.  Beginning at rehearsal K, the 2nd and 4th horns have a stopped c#’, which drops an octave after four measures.  The low c# must be very loud, but also in tune (example taken from the IMSLP parts).

The excerpt can be doubled so that the whole section is playing it, and I also highly recommend using a brass stop mute.  It is possible to play the note well using hand stopping, but it can be played much louder (and brassier) with a good stopping mute like this one by Alexander or this one by Ion Balu.  I own an Alexander mute and can say that it is a very fine mute that will get the job done, and I have also heard very good things about the Balu mute.  But don’t take my word for it – see the video below for a demonstration of the Balu stopping mute featuring Ion Balu.

Mahler’s symphonies have some amazing horn parts, including lots of stopped horn.  Take for instance this excerpt from the second movement of his Symphony No. 1.   The stopped notes are loud, rapidly articulated, and must also be played bells up (“Schalltr. auf”).  All seven horn parts have variations on this figure,  but the lower parts which go down to the low a-flat can be particularly difficult to project.  The example below is from the 4th horn part.

As with the Tchaikovsky excerpt, it is worth considering a brass stop mute on this one – they can really make a big difference in volume and projection. I would practice the excerpt both ways, however, just in case you are ever required to play it using hand stopping.

The final excerpt for today is not found in orchestral music, but instead comes from the wind band repertoire – Percy Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy. I could not get my hands on an actual part for today’s post, but I have played the work several times.  The first movement, “Lisbon,” opens with stopped horn and muted trumpet, making for a very interesting timbre when played well.  Having played this piece as both a high school and college student, I really wish I’d had some better stopped horn fingerings then.  The recording below is of the University of North Texas Wind Symphony.

To close I’ll leave you with a list I’m currently compiling: ” Orchestral and Band Works with Prominent Passages for Stopped and Muted Horn.”  If you have suggestions for the list please comment below – I’m particularly interested in band works since I’m not as familiar with that repertoire.  Looking at the list you can see that many major composers wrote lots of stopped and muted horn parts – it should definitely not be an “optional” part of your technique.

Muted

Beethoven, Ludwig van

  • Symphony No. 6

Berlioz, Hector

  • Symphonie Fantastique

Bruckner, Anton

  • Symphony No. 4

Debussy, Claude

  • La Mer
  • Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun

Dvořák, Antonín

  • Symphony No. 9

Mahler, Gustav

  • Symphony Nos. 1-9
  • Das Lied von der Erde

Mussorgsky, Modest (Ravel)

  • Pictures at an Exhibition

Prokofiev, Sergei

  • Romeo and Juliet (Suite No. 3)

Ravel, Maurice

  • Daphnis and Chloé
  • Rapsodie Espagnole

Rimsky-Korsavok, Nikolai

  • Le Coq d’Or (suite)
  • Scheherazade

Schoenberg, Arnold

  • Chamber Symphony No. 1

Shostakovich, Dmitri

  • Symphony No. 5

Strauss, Richard

  • Ein Alpensinfonie
  • Don Juan
  • Don Quixote
  • Ein Heldenleben
  • Symphonia Domestica
  • Till Eulenspiegels Lustige Streiche

Stravinsky, Igor

  • L’Oiseau de Feu, Suite (1919)
  • Le Sacre du Printemps (1913)

Stopped

Brahms, Johannes

  • Academic Festival Overture

de Falla, Manuel

  • El Sombrero de Tres Picos

Grainger, Percy

  • Lincolnshire Posy

Jenkins, Joseph Wilcox

  • American Overture for Band

Mahler, Gustav

  • Symphony Nos. 1-9
  • Das Lied von der Erde

Ravel, Maurice

  • Daphnis and Chloé
  • Rapsodie Espagnole

Rimsky-Korsavok, Nikolai

  • Capriccio Espagnol
  • Le Coq d’Or (suite)

Schoenberg, Arnold

  • Chamber Symphony No. 1

Stravinsky, Igor

  • Le Sacre du Printemps (1913)

Tchaikovsky, Pyotr

  • Symphony No. 5
  • Symphony No. 6

Williams, Clifton

  • Fanfare and Allegro

Stopped Horn Excerpts, Part 1

Lately I’ve been looking quite a bit at excerpts from the orchestral repertoire which feature stopped horn, either in solos or tutti passages.  Over the next two posts I’ll be discussing a few of them in some detail, and sharing a list of several other works which call for either stopped or muted horn.  The reason for this research is because I’m putting together a presentation for the Midwest Clinic in December.  I recently found out that my clinic proposal was accepted, and I’m really looking forward to attending this international band and orchestra conference.  I feel well prepared for the conference – I’ve given this presentation before and published an article based on it in The Instrumentalist – but for a venue as large as the Midwest Clinic I want to really make sure my clinic provides as much useful information as possible.  For a brief summary of the topic and my presentation, you can read the following clinic synopsis, which should be appearing on the Midwest Clinic website soon.

Stopped and Muted Horn: A Guide for Directors

Stopped horn is an extremely effective but sometimes misunderstood technique required for the horn.  Passages for stopped horn occur in nearly every genre of music for the instrument, from solos to chamber music to large ensembles such as orchestra and wind band.  This clinic will present some practical methods for helping your horn players learn this technique.  Mutes and mute technique can also be problematic for young and intermediate horn players.  Sometimes even choosing the correct kind of mute for a given passage can be confusing, and there are usually several workable options when it comes to mutes and mute technique. Recommendations on types and brands of mutes for purchase as well as some helpful tricks when working with muted horn sections are also included.

I’ll post more on my presentation as the date for the conference approaches, but one point I do want to make is that we all need to practice stopped horn!  It is a standard technique that pops up all the time, but there is still a good bit of confusion amongst many students (and some teachers).  Ideally you want to have a good set of stopped horn fingerings memorized – if you are still fingering everything down a 1/2 step on the F horn I encourage you to explore more B-flat horn fingerings.  Whatever you use, the goal is to be able to produce an accurate, in tune stopped horn sound with roughly the same level of confidence as when playing open horn.  Earlier this year I was reminded of these points during preparation and rehearsals for the Monroe Symphony Orchestra‘s season finale concert.  Two of the works on the concert – Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34 by Rimsky-Korsakov, and The Rock, Op. 7 by Rachmaninov – included some extended stopped playing.  The Rimsky-Korsakov excerpt is well known, and not just among horn players.

Notice that there are no pauses between the open and stopped passages – an excellent reason to work on a smooth and quick transition between open and stopped hand positions.  Here is a recording of that excerpt, recorded live from the Monroe Symphony’s concert on Saturday, May 7, 2011.  Dr. Clay Couturiaux is the conductor.

Overall I am happy with the performance, although the hall is very dry as you can tell from the recording, and the stopped horn passages don’t cut through as well as I would have liked.

The next two excerpts come at the end of the Rachmaninov, which has some very nice horn parts throughout. Both are soft, exposed solos, and when combined with the stopped horn marking make for a fun time!  The examples below are taken from the full score as found on the IMSLP.

 

There is a short tutti interlude between the two solos, which is included on the recording. As in the Rimsky-Korsakov, this is a live recording of the Monroe Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Clay Couturiaux

I practiced this passage a lot, and not just because it was an unfamiliar work to me.  I played it open and stopped back to back to work on intonation, and I did write in a number of fingering reminders. Oh, and did I mention that it’s for Horn in E?  Playing this passage using the old fingering rules (F horn, down 1/2 step) would only make it more challenging, and in fact I played everything except the written “g-sharp” and “a” in the staff on the B-flat side.  These are just two examples; there are many more out there.  We’ll continue on Friday with some more stopped horn excerpts.

Three Things You Should Practice Every Day

Although you might not be required to perform each of these techniques every day, it is essential that you keep them in good shape so that they are ready to go when you do need them.  I’ve found that even just five minutes or so of dedicated practice in each area helps to maintain proficiency.  If your regular daily routine doesn’t already include patterns for developing the following skills, you can choose from among the many excellent resources already out there, or create your own.

Lip Trills: Whether you already have a solid trill or are still perfecting your technique, daily practice is crucial to improving and maintaining this important part of our playing.  If you get bored doing the same trill exercises every day, change them up or create a rotation so that you are covering a range of materials.  Here’s a short list of publications with excellent trill exercises.

William R. Brophy, Technical Studies for Solving Special Problems on the Horn, Carl Fischer, 1977.

Bruce Hembd, “Exercise: My Lip Trills Stink,” published on Horn Matters, 2009.

Douglas Hill, From Vibrato to Trills to Tremolos…for the Horn Player, Really Good Music, LLC, 2003.

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

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

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

Multiple Tonguing: As with lip trills, I’ve found that unless I practice double and triple tonguing daily, fluency and clarity are lost over time.  You want your multiple tonguing to be as reliable as possible so that when playing rapid articulations you have the option of seamlessly switching over to double or triple if necessary.  Here are some resources.

J.B. Arban,  Complete Conservatory Method for Trumpet edited by Edwin Franko Goldman and Walter M. Smith, annotated by Claude Gordon, Carl Fischer, 1982.

William R. Brophy, Technical Studies for Solving Special Problems on the Horn, Carl Fischer, 1977.

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

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, 2007.

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

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

Stopped Horn: I think one of the main reasons why stopped horn doesn’t stay consistent unless practiced daily is because of the drastically different resistance and resulting sensations at the embouchure.  Virtually any long tone, scale, or articulation exercise can be modified for stopped horn practice – the important thing is to put in the time every day.  Practice both F and B-flat horn fingerings, but practice the best options for your instrument more often so that they become automatic.

You should of course practice other things every day, like long tones, high/low range, flexibility, scales, etc., but practicing your trills, multiple tonguing, and stopped horn daily will set you apart from many players.

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