This is the sequel to Practicing May to Dec. 08. It’s late January and nothing seems to be going right. I’ve got the new horn. I keep switching among my eight different mouthpieces (bad idea). I buy a weight that goes on the mouthpiece and is supposed to improve playing (not). I work on the Balanced Embouchure exercises. It’s so frustrating. I have the occasional good day but overall my playing is mediocre or bad.
As I mentioned in After the meltdown and the Balanced Embouchure I decided to take a lesson with Scott Bacon (Siegfried’s Call), who I bought my Hoyer from. I was lost and trying too many different things. I was struggling with endurance. My low range was poor. I was also still worried about the intonation of my new horn.
The first thing we did at the lesson was work on my low range. I could play the G below middle C but nothing lower except pedal notes. After about a half an hour he had me down to low C. My warm-up marching orders were to start every day trying to hit this note as the first note played. Then play long slow slurs from low C to G and back with the goal of increasing the range. C – G – C then C – G – middle C – G – C then repeating up to E, etc. By the end of the lesson I could just eke out C – G – middle C and back.
Scott set the metronome at quarter note = 60. It’s on for the rest of the lesson. The next thing we worked on was Exercise #1 in Embouchure Studies for French Horn by Joseph Singer. This exercise looks deceptively easy and is anything but. It’s a series of half note, half rest, half note, half rest, whole note starting on 1st space F and going to G above the staff. All breath attacks, no tonguing. Brutal.
Then out came Kopprash and we started on #1. I’m not a fan. Another exercise that looks deceptively easy. Well not only is it not easy, it’s a real lip killer. We’ve been working for about an hour and fifteen minutes and we are working in the order that he wants me to practice.
Next up is the 2nd movement of Mozart 3. Scott is meticulous. We worked on the first two measures – only – for about half an hour. By this time my chops are done. Really done. It’s the longest I’ve played since starting up again. The last time we did those two measures it sounded like gibberish.
As I left we reviewed my practice routine – warm-ups starting on the low C. Then Singer #1. Rest for a minimum of 20 minutes. Then Kopprash #1 followed by the Mozart. In addition scales, slurs, and tonguing (I’m sure I’m forgetting something.)
The lesson with Scott was really worthwhile. I didn’t need an embouchure change. Phew. I did have to promise that I wouldn’t switch mouthpieces anymore. I learned how to practice developing my low range. I learned how to get more out of practicing – breaking down the problem areas into the smallest steps and repeating it and repeating it and…..I still had issues with the intonation but I’m pretty convinced it’s me since Scott can play the horn in tune.
By following Scott’s practice routine my low range improved dramatically in about a week. I changed to practicing in twenty minutes chunks followed by twenty minute rests. By doing this I was able to increase my actual practicing time to about two hours. Now there is enough time to actually work on everything I want to work on.
Since my first lesson I’ve had two more lessons with Scott. I ‘graduated’ from exercise 1 to exercise 2 in the Kopprash book. He added exercise 4 in the Singer book – quarter note slurs starting from G going to C, then A going to D, B to E, etc. – and we’ve gotten to the 16th notes in the 2nd movement of Mozart 3. Boy I really struggle with those. If I set the metronome to eighth note = 110 (really slow) I can just about play them. Usually I’m either lagging behind or rushing ahead or sometimes just tuning out the metronome altogether (my favorite).
I’m now taking lessons with Scott every four to five weeks and with Lynn once a week. I think of lessons with Scott sort of like a master class. Lynn and I work on the nitty gritty stuff that has to be worked on week to week. We also finish each lesson playing some duets which I really enjoy and it helps my sightreading. It also ends each lesson on a positive note – pun intended. Scott is about a three hour drive from my home so weekly lessons with Scott are not an option. If both of them lived near by I would have a really tough time choosing one over the other. They complement each other very well and I learn so much from each of them.