The first year, a retrospective

May marks my first year anniversary of re-learning the horn. I’ve been thinking about how far I’ve come and what I did right and what I would do differently now that I know more.

I spent from May to August trying to learn on my own. Looking back, I should have gotten a teacher sooner. I did a lot of random playing during those months but other than getting sound out of the horn and then developing about an octave and a half range, I didn’t really improve. I played the same stuff over and over. I think I would be farther along now if I’d spent those months more productively.

Without a teacher I spent my time playing, not practicing. There really is a huge difference. I’d play everything from start to finish. Occasionally I’d repeat a measure that I messed up and inevitably I would repeat the same mistake. You’d think it would be obvious to slow the measures down to the point where they are playable correctly, to break the tricky passages into tiny chunks until they were right, but no, I’d just plow through everything. Now I’m close to meticulous about practicing correctly and, lo and behold, it works.

Of course there are always two sides to everything and if I had gotten a teacher before August I wouldn’t have the teacher I have now and that would be a shame. Lynn, the teacher I see every week is perfect for me. I learn a lot and I have fun. For an adult who is not trying to get a principle horn position I think fun needs to be part of the equation.

A year ago my sightreading was atrocious. The pieces that I played over and over again I played because I knew what they sounded like. I rarely tried something new. I avoided 16th notes like the plague. At first, when Lynn and I used to play duets she would say, “It’ll be ok, you can do it.” Then I couldn’t get through more than a few measures without stopping. Now I’m much, much better at sightreading. I think playing in the band had a lot to do with that but I’m also much more confident about what I can do and I’ve learned just to keep going and play through the missed notes.

I’m very happy with my new horn but I wouldn’t recommend anyone buy one so early in the learning process. I was convinced that my Yamaha was causing a lot of my problems and it probably was to some extent but I should have dealt with it until I was capable of trying horns myself so I could make a more informed selection. On the other hand, maybe sticking with the Yamaha would have slowed down my progress. My new Hoyer is definitely easier for me to play but maybe there is something out there that is even easier.

I am also still having intonation problems with the Hoyer. I think this is most likely me but I tend to play sharp on the Hoyer even with the slides pulled almost all the way out. In particular middle C and third space C are very sharp. I don’t remember having those issues with the Yamaha. I didn’t play the Yamaha at all after I got the Hoyer but I should have. Once I did pick it up to try it the valves were stuck solid so it’s been up at Siegfried’s Call for repair. I am going to try it once I get it back. I’m hoping that I will still find it harder to play. I’m also hoping that the intonation isn’t as good as I remember.

One thing I can say with absolute certainty is to never buy a horn if you can’t play it at all during the trial period when it’s still returnable. I had surgery in my neck four days before I bought my horn. I was under doctor’s orders not to play for two weeks. This surgery was scheduled for months and I had told the doctor that I played the horn. He never mentioned anything about his ‘don’t play’ order before the surgery and it didn’t occur to me that playing would be a problem though clearly it should have. I had special ordered the horn based on recommendations that it was the right horn for me before the surgery and I felt pretty obligated to buy it (and I really wanted a new horn) and I don’t really like conflict. I’m not saying that it isn’t the right horn for me, just that I should have tried a few others first and I’ll always have that nagging question in the back of my mind.

At my lesson with Scott Bacon a few weeks ago I tried a geyer wrap Hoyer that he had just gotten in. I didn’t really notice anything that different except that it’s above the staff Ab was really, really flat and I couldn’t lip it into tune. When I went back to my Hoyer it was like putting on that comfy old flannel shirt that feels so good. This was a very reassuring feeling.

I am glad that I tried different mouthpieces. (See My Mouthpiece Saga.) The custom one that I bought from Tom Greer is excellent for me. It really feels good and I am playing better. I got one with a screw on rim so I can change shanks without changing rims. The custom shank I got from Tom is slightly fatter than a standard mouthpiece to try to help with the sharpness of the Hoyer. I think it helps just a tad. It’s interesting that the Hoyer mouthpiece is a touch sharper. I don’t really know if it’s the mouthpiece that is making the difference with my playing, I could just be getting better.

I’m really glad that I joined a band. It has given me a lot more confidence and I should have joined sooner. Lynn always told me that I played better than I thought I did and she was right. I was terrified that I would screw up at the first rehearsal but it went reasonably well. I got better at each rehearsal and now I can play almost all of the music we are working on. One of my big problems when playing something is starting, messing up the first few notes and stopping and starting again. Band has almost cured me of that bad habit.

I wish I could say that I’ve worked on lots of music over the year but I really haven’t. It takes me awhile to learn new music. I’ve been working on Mozart 3 for months. I worked on Nocturno for months before that. I’m close to finishing with Mozart 3 now which is a good thing because I’m pretty sick of it. I’m also working on Strauss 1. I’m progressing slowly but steadily with the Strauss. Now that I’ve put lots of breaks into my daily practice sessions I can practice longer each day and I’m improving more quickly.

I’ve learned a lot this year and I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished. I hope that I can take what I’ve learned and use that knowledge to continue to improve throughout the coming year. Mostly I hope there are a lot more good days than bad days.

Practice gone wrong –>

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