I’ve been taking lessons since August 2008. I practice daily. I try hard to practice correctly. However, on many days I feel like I’m going downhill or stuck in a rut. If I am having a good day, my chops will last about 45 minutes. In the very beginning it was about 20 minutes so there is some improvement but 20 minutes turned into 45 minutes very quickly and I’ve been stuck at 45 minutes for months. Very occasionally I can get to an hour. It’s frustrating. I actually have the time to practice more. Moreover, I don’t have enough chop time to work on the things – warm-ups, scales, etudes, and actual music – that might actually help me improve.
I feel like 3 months ago I was playing longer before tiring but I suspect that what’s really happening is that I am better than I was 3 months ago for the first 20 or so minutes and then I revert to how I was playing for the whole time back then. What starts to happen over the hours’ time is that my notes get more and more fuzzy even though I work hard to keep my breathing and air support the same as at the beginning of practice. It’s frustrating.
Around mid October Lynn, my private teacher, started me working on Franz Strauss Nocturno. I’ve been at it for weeks. I keep struggling on the same passages. The piece starts on Ab (Horn in F) and goes down a half step to G, then back to Ab, up to Db, then down to C. I’ll be darned if I can play a clean transition from the G to the Ab. It’s a gurgle or a clam every time. Geesh. If I break the passage down and only play the G to Ab it’s usually ok. If I add the opening Ab, not so much. Of course this is not the only passage that I have trouble with, I seem to gurgle consecutive notes fairly frequently. Intervals of 3rds and up are better. When I say ‘gurgle’ I mean that there is not a clean transition from one note to the next. It’s note – gurgle – next note. Once I get to the next note it is clear. I wouldn’t exactly call it a clam. To me that is more like a splat – note combination or just missing the note entirely.
My range hasn’t improved either. I can play from the G below middle C up two octaves. I’m sure some of you are thinking that’s great for playing for about 6 months. But again, I got there months ago and haven’t improved since then.
So I start trying to analyze the problems – endurance, range and sloppy playing. I want to blame equipment. Lynn tells me it’s most likely poor breathing. She works with me on that continuously. I usually start playing and it’s “Stop. You didn’t breathe. Take a deep breath from the diaphram. Put the horn down and let’s practice breathing. Then use the mouthpiece and buzz. Now pick up the horn.” On goes the metronome. 1,2, 3 – take deep breath on 4 – and play. What Lynn keeps harping on is that breathing properly is critical. My opinion – It helps all three problems I have. More air = better endurance, less pressure. Faster air = better range. Better air support, less gurgles between notes. All that being said I still think I have a problem playing my horn. Back to the Nocturno. I try Lynn’s horn, a Hill, and I don’t gurgle. It just feels easier to play. I guess I don’t really need to get a new horn but if it can help, even a little, it will be worth it.