When I started playing again last May I didn’t have any routine for practicing. I’d blow (I can’t call it buzzing yet) into the mouthpiece for a minute or so and then just try to play stuff. I tackled the C major scale, just one octave, and I bought the Rubank Soloist Folio book and started with Shenandoah. My mother, who lives with me, is a well known composer and pianist and we’d just play what I could in the book. Nothing like having a built-in pianist who cheers me on even when I don’t get any notes right. On the other hand, she has perfect pitch. All of you hornists out there have to know what living with that must be like. (Voice from upstairs …. your A is flat… two minutes later….your F is sharp… and so it goes. Today she told me that my F was sharp but only a little bit – progress!)
After the initial weeks of just blow and try to play, I got out my Farkas book and added the first warm-ups he recommends but within the range I could play. At this point I managed about 20 minutes before my chops gave up. I was hoping that in addition to the technical improvement warm-ups would provide that my endurance would also increase. Alas, no such luck.
Over the next two months I did increase my practice time to about 40 minutes a day but only 20 minutes of it was decent. I was using some Farkas warm-ups, The First Practical Book of French Horn Studies and some of the pieces in the Rubank book. The Andante Cantable from the Tchaikovsky 5th was one of my favorites. Who doesn’t try to butcher that when they start playing? Occasionally I’d add some fun stuff from a Beatles book and a Phantom of the Opera book I bought.
After another month or two I felt like I wasn’t making any progress and I decided to get a teacher. My endurance was still at around 20 minutes (of decent playing) and I was still playing the same stuff maybe slightly better. I started taking lessons with Lynn at the end of August. My first two lessons are described in Time for a Teacher.
Around October I was practicing for about 40 to 45 minutes a day before I had to stop. I’d try to do another 15 – 20 minutes later in the day but usually only managed 10 or less. I really wanted to do more. 70% of this time was spent on long tones, slurs, scales from the Peres book, and etudes from the Preparatory Melodies for Solo Work for Horn book that were relatively easy. I spent a bit of time on some of the easier works in the Mason Jones solo book and I started working on Franz Strauss’ Nocturno. I tried to maintain good air support, a big problem of mine, good tone, and intonation. But most of the time my air support was non-existent, my tone was fuzzy, and my intonation marginal at best. Once upon a time I had a good ear. Nice fairy tale.
By December I was really frustrated. I felt like I was stuck in a rut. No increase in chop time. No improvement in playing that I could detect. I was still working on most of the same etudes. I started blaming equipment instead of me. So I go and buy a new horn and a bunch of mouthpieces. Will this ever get better?