When I first started taking lessons back in August 2008 I was playing some etudes from Practical Studies book 1, some pieces from the Rubank Soloist Folio for F Horn book, Traumerai in the Master Solos Intermediate Level book by Louis Stout and I had a few other easy books that I looked at now and then.

I played, or more appropriately tried to play, these pieces for Lynn, my new teacher, at my first lesson. The first thing she did, in addition to setting up a warm-up routine, was have me start working on exercises 1 and 2 in Preparatory Melodies by Pottag and to stop playing all these different things and just focus on The Victor in the Rubank book and Traumerai in the Stout book.

After about a month or two of this – including moving on in the Pottag book and the Stout book – she suggested starting on Franz Strauss’ Nocturno. I jumped on the chance to work on what I considered a ‘real’ piece.

When we first started working on the piece I had trouble with both the notes and the rhythm. Rhythm has always been a bugaboo for me. In fact, early on in my lessons when we were playing duets she said, “You do know how to count in 6/8 don’t you?” Well of course I do. (She actually asked me that same question at my lesson the other day but before we started the duet rather than during it. Yikes. Fortunately I did just fine.) I just tend to worry more about the notes than the rhythm. This is not a good thing and I try hard to pay attention to both the rhythm and the notes at the same time. Of course there is always something that suffers and when I focus too hard on notes and rhythm the musicality tends to go into the toilet.

I have since learned from Scott Bacon to divide up measures into the smallest beat and play all notes at that beat when I practice. For example, in Mozart 3 second movement first measure – play, not think but actually play, three eighth notes in series instead of the dotted quarter note and continue on like that with the metronome on set at eighths. This method works very well for me.

As far as the notes go in Nocturno, I consistently had trouble with the first measure. (Not that I didn’t have trouble elsewhere, this just annoyed me the most because I knew that I could play those notes correctly.) The opening notes are Ab – G – Ab. I couldn’t seem to play this without missing either the Ab to G or the G to Ab. It was never clean. It was this measure that got me to ask Lynn to try her Hill (I had to blame my Yahama of course, not me) and ultimately purchase a new horn. See “Buying a horn” for more on that. In this case, I finally played the measure correctly with the Hill. It immediately felt easier.

I worked on Nocturno for months. I think I was driving Lynn crazy. I tend toward being a perfectionist (why, oh why, am I playing the horn?) and I didn’t want to stop working on it until it was ‘perfect’. Well that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon (still hasn’t, LOL) but I was getting much better with it and Lynn tried hard to get me to move on to something else which eventually I did.

So why am I writing about Nocturno? I use it as my litmus test for both gauging improvement and how I am playing that day. As far as improvement goes, I recorded it back in November and I record it once every six weeks or so. When I play the recordings back in sequence I can actually hear the difference. I am really improving. It’s a really good feeling to actually know this for myself rather than having Lynn or someone else tell me this.

As far as the daily practice grind, I’ll pull out Nocturno and I’ll know pretty quickly how the day is going to go. I don’t do this every day but If I’m struggling, for example, through Mozart 3 or Strauss 1 and then I struggle through Nocturno I have learned just to chalk it up to a bad day and move on since I know I can play Nocturno well. If Nocturno goes well, I wonder a bit more about what’s going on. I have to admit that if this is the day’s scenario, I have to work a lot harder emotionally to stay calm (almost wrote clam there) and not go through the change the mouthpiece or add a gadget mentality.

Nocturno is now getting pretty easy for me. On a good day I still clam some notes here and there but the gurgles are gone and I almost never miss the opening or subsequent Ab – G – Ab. I usually get through the whole thing where I’m happy with the result. Soon I’m going to need to pick a different piece for my litmus test. Maybe Strauss 1?

The first year, a retrospective –>

3 thoughts on “Nocturno

  1. Hi,
    your site is very interesting, I´ve just finished reading all the posts in your blog. I started playing french horn in February 2008 and a lot of the things you wrote sound all to familiar to me. The first six months I played on a cheap horn from China I bought on e-bay. The horn isn´t in tune with itself and the keys make a horrible clank-clank sound. So, after a while when I´d decided that the horn was MY instrument to learn I bought a Hoyer 801. I practice every day and I play in two different orchestras. Since there aren´t any important big concerts happening at the moment, I decided to really concentrate on practicing the F-side of my horn and to my horror I play much more out of tune now on both sides -Bb and F- than I did before, arrgh! At first this depressed me a lot, but now I don´t switch the tuner on before I start playing. I try to listen to myself harder than before and just enjoy my practice sessions. The tuner is still there but I try not to worry about it so much.- I can´t afford a teacher. So I read a lot in the internet and listen to you-tube. I came to your side via the horndog-blog. I´m looking forward to more postings from you.
    Yours sincerely
    Sabine P.


    • Hi Sabine –
      Thanks for writing! I’m glad your Chinese horn didn’t stop you from playing. You must really love the horn to get past that. Many people would just give up not realizing that it was the instrument and not them with the problem. It’s awesome that you are in two orchestras. I am hoping to get into an orchestra some day. How are you doing with the transposition? That’s my biggest worry about playing in an orchestra.

      I get what you are saying about your intonation issues. In fact, I am having a lesson today with Scott Bacon who I bought my horn from. We are going to have quite a conversation about my new Hoyer and intonation. I have a guess, and it is truly only a guess, that you may be having more trouble with intonation now because above G (where most people switch to Bb) it’s harder to play on the F side – you have to use more air – and that may be what’s changed for you. Again, this is my opinion only.

      p.s. More postings are coming shortly.


      • Hi Tina,
        I find transposing from Eb to F very hard. As far as I know I won´t have to transpose from other keys than Eb in my orchestras. That is I hope not. I started practicing it last October. Playing the upbeat in marches is slowly getting better, I have no choice but to sightread as there are about 200 different marches that are being played in one of the orchestras. I leave out the difficult measures, usually the ones with accidentals in them.On May 29th I will be marching with this orchestra for the first time.Another difficult thing is switching back from transposing to normal again.-
        I change to playing the Bb side from about third space c, although I sometimes prefer playing the d above third space c on the F side because of the better sound. But this depends very much on whether I have a good day or not.
        I agree, it´s harder to hit the write note on the F side. Plus the more-air-factor and I recently changed my practice room. I now play in the cellar where I can really let go and no one complains. That again I think changed my embouchure as I used to play quite soft before so as not to disturb the neighbours.
        Yours sincerely
        Sabine P.


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