Traveling

I’m on my way to the International Horn Symposium by car so I have several nights in hotels on my way. I’ve never used a practice mute before. I borrowed one (Yamaha silent brass mute without the electronics) and used it for the first time two days ago. It was weird. Very, very weird. The first thing – how to hold the horn. The mute takes up all the space in the bell. No room for a hand. This is pretty obvious but it didn’t occur to me until I stuck the mute into the bell. I tried holding on to the end of the mute, holding the edge of the bell, shoving my elbow against the mute – nothing really worked.

The second thing – really bad posture which is a consequence of the the hand problem. I found myself fairly hunched over once I found a somewhat comfortable place for my right hand.

Then there’s the sound or lack thereof. I was surprised how quiet the mute makes the horn. It’s hard to describe the sound. It’s not just softer, it’s got kind of an edge to it. I also found that if I wasn’t careful, I would play a ‘wa-wa’ sound similar to a trumpet with that kind of mute. I practiced for about a half hour  – mostly slurs and scales – and that was about all I could stand. Trying to play real music just didn’t work for me.

Yesterday the horn gods were looking favorably on me. I was originally planning to stop in Columbus, Ohio but when I got there I wasn’t very tired and I decided to push on. I went a little past Dayton and saw one of those exits with a bunch of hotels listed. One was a Hampton Inn and I like those so I decided to head there. I followed the signs and thought I had gotten lost. I had to follow this long, winding road (remember this is by an Interstate exit) up a hill. I had past the other hotels on the highway sign before following this road. I finally got to the hotel and at first I thought it wasn’t open. There was only one car in the parking lot. I checked in and asked how full the hotel was. Only 10 registered guests (Hmm – I wonder why?) I explained that I wanted to practice my horn and asked the desk clerk if she could put me far away from the other guests. “Yes – I can put you on the noisy side of the hotel by the highway. All the others are on the ‘quiet’ side.”  Two hours of practice – yes!

International Horn Symposium Day 1 –>

Quick endurance update

Several day ago I posted about how my endurance (see Endurance) has improved. I did an experiment where I added a third practice session in one day which added half an hour to my usual two hours a day.  I was hoping that the next day would be good and not show any ill effects from the extra practice the day before.

I can say that this was a success. I did not have any issues on the next day that I could blame on too much practice the day before. In fact, my chops were a lot less stiff than they usually are at the beginning of the day. I haven’t played for more than two hours each day since then but that’s because I’ve been busy, not because I thought I couldn’t do it. It’s quite a relief not to have to worry so much about playing in the morning when something  else – duets, band rehearsal, lessons, whatever –  is going to happen later in the day.

Traveling –>

Endurance

I’ve managed to get 2 hours of practice in almost every day since late January when I changed my practice routine from playing straight for 45 minutes and killing my chops to a play for 20 minutes then rest for 20 minutes then play then rest etc. schedule with a four to five hour break between my first hour of playing and my second. I am starting to see some real improvement from a few months ago both in my playing in general and especially with endurance.

I’ve been really busy for the past several weeks so I started to skip the 20 minute breaks for my afternoon practice session and just go straight through the hour. I discovered that I had no problem playing for that length of time and it didn’t seem to effect how I played the next day. Then about a week ago I decided to try going straight through the first hour also and I didn’t have any problem with that either. I haven’t seen any detrimental effect to the afternoon session.

The only time I still rest during the morning practice session is after the first Singer exercise – half note, half rest, half note, half rest, whole note, whole rest starting at F in the staff and going up to G above the staff – if I do it. At the end of this exercise Singer actually says ‘rest’ so I follow the instructions and take a 20 minute rest.

The other thing I have noticed is that if I don’t get two hours of practice in every day I play significantly worse the next day. When I first realized that this was happening I was surprised because for most other activities rest usually improves things. But I’ve noticed this consistently now and I can pretty much guarantee a bad day if I miss my second hour of practice the day before. I have not tried taking a whole day off and then seeing what happens with my playing. What will be really interesting is to see what effect the layoff on my way to IHS in Macomb (I’m driving from Long Island, NY) has on my playing. I’m hoping that several days off will have a beneficial effect. I expect to get plenty of playing in once I arrive. I am bringing a practice mute but I doubt that I will want to practice instead of moving on toward my destination.

This evening I decided to try an experiment and see if I could play for another half hour. I already did an hour in the morning followed by 3 hrs rest and then an hour in the afternoon. I added the half hour after another 3 hour rest. I think I played similarly to how I played earlier today. I did notice that arpeggios got a lot easier. On the other hand, tongued notes were not as crisp.  I didn’t feel as though I was playing on my teeth which is how I feel if I am overdoing it. Range and tone were okay. 

I’ll have a good idea about the outcome of my experiment tomorrow. If I can get in an hour of practice in the morning and survive band rehearsal in the evening then I will call my experiment a success.

Quick endurance update –>

A really good lesson

Finally. I actually managed to play close to how I play when I practice by myself in front of Lynn, my teacher. It’s been a long time coming. Usually I’m just nervous enough to screw up, in some way or another, almost every passage I play during a lesson. That’s followed by my statement, “I usually don’t play this quite this badly”.

At the beginning of the lesson I didn’t do a good job with the arpeggios starting on middle C. I don’t typically have much trouble with these (my opinion, not necessarily Lynn’s) and I was thinking that maybe this lesson wasn’t going to go so well. Fortunately things improved a lot. Again, my opinion but at least I was happy.

We started working on arpeggios that start at low C with the goal of getting to third space C with an embouchure shift from low to high somewhere around middle C. I can do this from high to low pretty easily but not from low to high yet. Occasionally I can do this without the embouchure shift but the tone is bad. I got some really good instructions about how to go about working on this shift. I don’t worry too much about how I play when the lesson is on new stuff. I’m just happy that I understand and remember  (I forgot to take notes) what I need to do.

Next up was the Singer #4 exercise. (See A lesson in basics for a description of this and the Kopprash exercise.) This went well and I started to think that maybe this would be a good day after all. The Singer #4 exercise is not one that I beat myself up over if I don’t play it all that well. I’m still learning to do it right so I’m happy with any improvement. 

Kopprash #2 followed the Singer exercise. This exercise went really well. In fact, Lynn said it was the best she had heard me play it. She was right. It was the best I’d ever played it. Now that hardly ever happens at a lesson. 

Time for Kopprash #19. This is basically an articulation exercise – all 16th notes, some slurred, some stacatto. We’ve been working on my stacatto tonguing for at least a month, maybe two, and it’s been slowly getting better but even this was good today. My assignment for next week is to pick up the tempo.  

Onward to Mozart 3, 1st movement and then Strauss 1. There are several passages in both pieces that we’ve been working on. I messed up the rhythm a bit (actually you can’t really mess up the rhythm ‘a bit.’ It’s either right or it’s not) but I got the notes. I’ve had plenty of lessons where I miss more notes than I make so it’s a really good thing if we are only working on the rhythm. By this point I have concluded that I’m having a very good day. I don’t really know why but I’m not complaining.

We finished up the lesson playing some Brahms duets. Even these went well. I remember when I used to get lost or play a wrong note and stop every few measures. I probably stopped once or twice but I played better than I have in the past. So, as I wrote at the beginning, finally a good lesson.

This is a picture of my dachshund Frankie’s butt, taken today, as he hides under a chair during my afternoon practice session. He also passes gas at every lesson.    

What my dachshund thinks of my playing.

What my dachshund thinks of my playing.

Endurance –>

International Horn Symposium

I’ll be attending the International Horn Symposium in Macomb, IL early next month. This will be my first symposium and it will be a fantastic learning experience for me. I’m really looking forward to going.

Their website says: Study horn playing with guest artists and distinguished horn teachers.

  • Enjoy directed playing experiences in classes, clinics, and horn choirs
  • Visit exhibitors to discuss horn study and playing
  • Compete in solo performance, orchestral playing, horn ensembles and jazz solo performance
  • Participate in clinics on specialized topics of technique, literature, and performance
  • Experience outstanding performances and presentations by guest artists and contributing artists of solo and chamber music for the horn

Wow. 

If any of you are planning to attend and would like to meet at the symposium please leave a comment and I’ll come up with a plan.

A really good lesson –>

Gizmos

Even though I know better, I keep trying out things that I hope will instantaneously turn me into the world’s greatest horn player. The two latest gadgets that I am trying out are the Dennis Wick Horn Booster and the AcoustiCoil.

The Denis Wick horn mouthpiece booster is said to, among other things, add more mass to the mouthpiece to help with projection, provide better control at louder dynamics, and better centering of pitch. Oh I wish this was true. I have tried it on and off for the past three months or so. I keep hoping that it will help but I really can’t tell much of a difference other than it makes certain notes buzz. Because of this buzzing I would use it for around a half and hour and then take it off and then try it again later in the day or the next day. I’m not 100% sure that it fits my mouthpiece correctly but I’m using a B12 Moosewood cup and that’s pretty standard.   

The AcoustiCoil is supposed to enhance everything – per their website: articulation, endurance, dynamics, intensity, intonation and range – yup, pretty much everything. Rather than my paraphrasing what their website says, please just check it out. If nothing else, it’s an interesting premise to read about. I have had slightly better results with this than with the Denis Wick Horn Booster.

The first time I used it I went straight to band rehearsal. I immediately noticed better articulation. In fact, I probably played the band music as well as I had ever played it at this rehearsal. I practiced with it in my horn for a few days but as the time passed I noticed less and less improvement – in other words, I played the way I always play. I would then take it out of the horn and it would seem that I played better without it but again eventually I would drift back to my typical capability. I’ve had it in my horn for two or three week stretches because I forget that I have it in. During those stretches I’ve had great days and horrible days. So the jury is out with this gadget. 

Of course (here comes the disclaimer) the results that I have obtained are exclusively mine. I’m not saying that these gizmos don’t work, they just didn’t work very well for me. It’s entirely possible that both these devices would work better for someone who plays better than I do. Most likely the expected changes are subtle and would more likely be noticed by an experienced player. Although I will always be a sucker for the latest gizmo, the real deal is that I will just have to keep on practicing.

International Horn Symposium –>

Two teachers

A few days ago I posted (A lesson in basics) about my grueling lesson with Scott Bacon who I take lessons from monthly. Thursday I had my weekly lesson with Lynn. I reviewed my lesson with Scott pointing out the specific things I wanted Lynn to watch for. In general I work on very, very specific exercises with Scott along with one piece of music that Lynn and I are working on if there is time. In my lessons with Lynn we go over the exercises I work on for Scott and then spend a lot more time on music. 

Lynn and I started with the low arpeggios that I always warm-up on. Low C – middle C – G – middle C – back to G and then down to C. This is the exercise that Scott stopped me about half way thru and said that I was closing my throat. It’s described in a bit more detail in A lesson and practicing. I worked on it a lot between Monday and Thursday and Lynn watched me carefully as I progressed up to third space C and back. She didn’t see me close my throat (phew) as I got higher but she did say that I am working too hard. I wasn’t really sure how to work less hard but I got it during the next exercise. 

After the arpeggios we worked on Singer exercise #4. The goal is to play the four note slurs (G-A-B-C; then A-B-C-D, etc.) as smoothly and evenly as possible. We spent some time doing this sequence on the mouthpiece only. This got me to relax, not work so hard (I got it), and just blow a nice even airstream. As you go up in the scale more air is needed but the volume and the smoothness has to remain the same. The exercise went much, much better back on the horn. 

Here’s the big advantage of working with two teachers. Scott talked about what he wanted me to accomplish from the exercise. I played the exercise over and over at Scott’s and eventually I got to ‘very good’ and ‘that’s what I’m looking for’ comments from Scott. The problem for me was that I really didn’t know exactly what I did to get to ‘very good.’ I could hear that I was playing the exercise much better. I know the goal but getting to the goal, not so much. 

Lynn provided the tools that got me to play the exercise correctly consistently. The same thing was true with Kopprash #2. Scott told me what he was looking for (this was my third lesson on Kopprach #2). 1 – enough air to get thru the phrase; 2 – legato tonguing; 3 – impeccable rhythm; 4 – very controlled dynamics starting from pppp and getting to ffff, as loud as I can possibly play, at the exact places in the music where the crescendo starts and stops. I never got even close to a ‘very good’ at Scott’s. Lynn had me start at the last three notes and play them as loud as I could. Then we went backwards. This way I learned how loud I needed to get and how much air it took to play those notes, my two biggest problems with this exercise. 

Scott also has techniques that helps me with the music I’m working on with Lynn. For example, (and this is just one of many) he taught me to set the metronome at double time to work with my rhythm issues. One interesting note about the metronome. Lynn and I discovered Thursday that once I learn the rhythm with the metronome, I actually play more spot on with the metronome off than with it on and I feel like I play a whole lot more musically. I would never have realized this at Scott’s since the metronome is never off. (Ugh.)

Fortunately for me, Scott and Lynn were able to meet each other and spend a bit of time talking at the Southeast Horn Workshop. It’s nice to know that when I say ‘Scott said this’ or Lynn said that’ at a lesson that we all know each other. It’s also good that inevitably if I say ‘Scott said this’ or Lynn said that’ that the response is always, ‘good.’ This two teacher thing would never work if I was getting conflicting advice. I think I’m learning a lot faster by having both teachers and I’m very happy that, so far, this is working well for me.

Gizmos –>