Bits and Pieces Part 2

Don’t introduce yourself to the conductor of the new band you just joined and mention that you might need the ladies room during rehearsal. He might just tell you about his prostrate.

If you have a guest conductor and the regular conductor plays clarinet directly to your right don’t play those low G’s in the 4th horn part a beat off for ten measures.

If you’ve developed the most worthwhile skill of totally ingoring your metronome when practicing, don’t exhibit this newly honed skill at your lesson.

Before you decide that there is something terribly wrong with your horn, make sure you have screwed your bell on all the way.

Don’t bring music to your lesson to demonstrate one problem you are having without realizing that you are now going to spend a whole lesson’s worth of time on two measures.

Don’t bring your expensive tuner to a lesson and forget where you put it when you get back home. (Three weeks and counting.)

Don’t pack your horn up, put it in the car, and drive away to a concert. Good thing about that dreaded feeling that you forgot something. Yup, it was the bell.

Don’t go bicycle riding and bang a full water bottle on your lip. This hurts almost as much as doing it with the mouthpiece.

Don’t swap mouthpiece shanks and forget where you put your rim.

Don’t yell as loudly as possible at your conductor at the start of a concert. I didn’t do this, the 1st horn did. You might want to skip the next rehearsal too.

If you are going to arrive at an outdoor concert on your Harley it might be a good idea to arrive on time. – 1st clarinet and 1st flute.

You might want to read Bits and Pieces also.

Updates –>

Horn Dilemma

For those of you who have read some of my posts, you may remember that the Bb side of my Hoyer has played sharp since I bought it. At IHS Hoyer agreed that the horn was sharp and finally sent a new tuning slide two weeks ago. A few pros have tried my horn since then and have deemed the intonation ‘playable’. Not ‘fixed’ exactly. They have told me that I should be able to learn how to play it in tune; that Hoyer has done their part and I shouldn’t expect them to replace the horn.

I don’t know what to do. Right now I can’t play this horn in tune with any consistency. I’ll play the same passage several times in a row and sometimes it’s fine, sometimes it’s flat and sometimes it’s sharp. The F side of the horn now tends to be a bit flat when I play it even with the F tuning slide pushed all the way in. I have my Yamaha 668, my teacher’s Conn 8D and a loaner Dieter Otto horn at home and I play all of them mostly in tune. The slots on the Hoyer are big which isn’t helping and I have a lot of trouble centering the notes. Tom Greer (Moosewood) played my horn at IHS and said he couldn’t center the notes. Would a tuning slide fix that problem?

So do I keep the Hoyer and learn how to play it in tune? Should I have to learn how to do that? Shouldn’t a horn play in tune or very close to in tune once the slides are set? I know there are always some notes that are typically flat or sharp and I’m not talking about making sure the pitch is correct when playing with an ensemble. I like the Hoyer a lot except for the intonation.

One of my options is to send the Hoyer to Jim Patterson of Patterson Hornworks. They do custom work on Hoyer horns and he seems to think he can make mine a lot better. Another option is to put the Hoyer up for sale at the dealer where I bought the horn and buy the Otto I have on loan or one of the other horns he has in stock. Do I just sell the Hoyer myself and then buy some other horn? Should I keep the Hoyer and live with it? Will I actually learn to play it in tune relatively quickly? I do play in two community bands and there are occasions when the horns play in unison or I have an exposed part so good intonation is important especially in one of the bands.

Any answers, comments or suggestions are most welcome!

Bits and Pieces Part 2 –>

How’s my playing?

Jay who writes the Horn Logic blog posted in Evaluating what you think you knowthis extremely useful, yet somewhat depressing, list to characterize ones’ playing capability. It’s a bit depressing for me because it’s quite a reality check. “I have to learn all that!!!” On the other hand, it’s a great tool for keeping track of ones’ progress subjective as it may be.

I’ve filled in my ‘numbers’ resisting the urge to just puts 1’s in the entire list. In Jay’s list a 1 is a beginner and a 10 is a professional. I’m going to add a 5 as a mid-point and equate that to how I remember (almost 40 years ago) I played as a high school student. I have no idea if how I think I played back then bears any resemblance to how high school students play today. There are a few terms that I wasn’t sure how to rate so they have question marks.

_6__ Sound
_3__ Technique
_3__ Scales
_4__ Sight-reading
_2__ Endurance
_?__ Articulation variance
_1__ Articulation cleanliness
_3__ Dynamic control
_3__ Dynamic variance
_6__ Tuning/Pitch
_4__ Consistency
_2__ Rhythm (Inner metronome)
_2__ Flexibility
_4__ High range
_6__ Low range
_1__ Double tonguing
_1__ Triple tonguing
_2__ Agility (Fast runs)
_4__ Legato playing
_3__ High loud playing
_2__ High soft playing
_2__ Low loud playing
_3__ Low soft playing
_5__ Bass clef
_4__ Musicality
_4__ Breath control
_6__ Practice habits
_3__ Music theory
_1__ Orchestral rep knowledge
_1__ Solo lit knowledge
_2__ Performance anxiety
_2__ Memory
_?__ Efficiency
_2__ Finesse (Light playing)
_?__ Sustain (Blocks of sound)
_1__ Lip trills
_?__ Lack of tension

Now you can see why I find this list a bit depressing. I have a long way to go. I’ve probably been hard on myself since I tend to do that. I think this is probably a good list to review with ones’ teacher. They are likely to be more objective both the first time through and when evaluating progress.

Horn Dilemma –>

What’s age got to do with it?

A lot. Groan. Memory is a biggie. As I’ve been practicing memorizing scales I’ve realized that I am having a lot of trouble with remembering patterns. I know the scales and I can recite them and I can play them if I read the music. Other than C and F major I can’t seem to play them from memory with any consistency. At my lesson Monday with Scott Bacon he suggested that I try to visualize the notes. I’m hoping that will help.

At my lessons both Scott and Lynn, my weekly teacher, will play a pattern that they want me to repeat. Well I’ve been working on one easy pattern that Scott taught me – C to E, down to Eb to B, down to Bb up to D down to C# and so forth – since June. I still can’t play the whole thing accurately from memory. Lynn will play arpeggios in different patterns and ask me to repeat them. They need to be ridiculously simple or I struggle with them.

Then there’s physical things. I’ve learned that I sometimes gurgle notes because my fingers don’t exactly match my attacks. And my dexterity in general isn’t that great. 32nd notes may always be muddy – sigh. I’m taking medication on an ‘as needed’ basis for the stomach pain I wrote about. I’ve discovered that if I don’t take it my tone has developed an annoying vibrato since I feel slightly shaky. I’ve only been taking this stuff for a few weeks and I don’t take a lot of it yet it has this effect. Hopefully the pain will go away soon so I can stop taking this stuff.

Breathing properly is also an issue. I don’t have a problem with it if I remember to do it (ha ha) but there’s a guy in my community band who really can’t take a big breath.  I have the word ‘breathe’ written in big print on my music. I also have a mild heart arrhythmia that will interfere with horn playing occasionally. Just try playing a nice phrase when your heart decides to skip a few beats and then go off rhythm for a few seconds (and the metronome doesn’t help with this one.)

One final note about memory – I can’t find my tuner. I brought it with me to my lesson with Scott. At the same time I got my new tuning slide for my horn (which is why I brought my tuner.) As I was putting my horn back in my car Scott brought out the old tuning slide. I wanted to put it somewhere safe so I took my tuner out of my horn case and put in the old slide. I put my tuner in my suitcase. I have confirmed with Scott that he saw me put my tuner in my car behind my suitcase. That’s a slight discrepancy from my recollection but it did leave with me in my car. When I got home I opened my suitcase in my bedroom. I don’t remember taking the tuner out of the suitcase and I can’t find it anywhere. I have searched my car at least six times and my house numerous times and this is driving me crazy. I ordered another one yesterday and my old one still hasn’t shown up. Maybe one of you know where it is.

How’s my playing –>

Goals

When I first picked up my horn again back in May 2008 I really didn’t have any expectations or goals. I was just going to see how it would go. As I played and then actually started to practice I slowly got better and good things fell into place. I didn’t set a goal to play in a community band by January 09. One day my teacher and I talked about playing in a band and I found a local group, emailed the band director and got in. Then I met the other hornists in this band who told me about another band and I got into that.

As I practiced more and played better I got more serious about playing and I started to think very abstractly about what goals I have related to playing the horn. Goals can be short term or long term and may or may not be achievable depending on how they are defined. Fundraising goals, for example, are typically set for a fiscal year which, to me, would be a long term goal.  Establishing targets for each quarter would be short term goals. To reach a short term goal one can define a set of tasks which, if accomplished, completes the goal. On a daily or weekly basis one can identify expectations that hopefully lead to successfully completing the task. A task could be contacting all the people who made a donation the previous year with an expectation of getting 65% of them to donate again.

For horn playing, one of my short term goals is to learn transposition. The tasks would be to learn Eb and then E and so forth. As I practice everyday I may set an expectation of playing one short Kopprasch etude correctly in Eb at a given tempo, say quarter note = 60. Once I achieve that, the next expectation would be to play the same exercise at quarter note = 70. This may seem like micromanagement but as I mentioned in my blog about expectations I want to make daily practice sessions a positive experience so I want to set my daily expectations darn close to achievable. As I work on transposition over time my short term goal will ultimately become an expectation – e.g. play x number of excerpts in different transpositions correctly.

A long term goal of mine would be to play in a community orchestra. One of the many things I need to do to achieve that goal is to learn transposition. So that long term goal of playing in a community orchestra is made up of shorter goals, one of which is to learn transposition. Another thing I have to work on is rhythm. I think most goals should be quantifiable so a goal of “get better at rhythm” would not be a particularly useful goal. Picking out a rhythmically complicated excerpt to be sight read in a month might be a better goal.

I hadn’t really thought about writing my goals down but it makes sense to do that just as it makes sense to write down expectations. To that end, I designed a practice log that hopefully will make it easy to jot down notes (pun intended) as I practice. The value of a practice log is not only to identify what one should work on for the day but to see progress on a regular basis. The more specific and achievable the expectations are the more obvious it will be to see improvement.

Practice Log

Practice Log

This is the log I designed and just started using. I typed in the exercises that I do everyday and I left blank space for the current things I am working on that will change over time. I entered a few expectations and goals as an example. I think this log still needs some improvements – a place for a date; maybe using landscape format to get more room for comments or to add a column for tasks. It’ll need to be two pages to get everything in it but that’s probably the better way to do it. Once I feel comfortable with the design I’ll take it to Staples, print up a hundred or so pages and have it bound.

I’ve been keeping a practice journal for quite a while now but I rarely go back and read it. For one thing, my handwriting is awful so when I do look it over I can’t figure out half of what I wrote. At my weekly lesson we sometimes review what I have written for the week but I lose some valuable lesson time trying to decipher what’s in the journal. Even if I can figure out what the words are I don’t always remember what I meant. This log needs to be simple and concise so it’s easy to go back and review it. If anyone has ideas on how to make this log better I’m all ears (or maybe eyes.)

What’s age got to do with it? –>

Expectations

I had one of those “It’s 2 AM in the morning, why on earth am I awake?” nights and I started thinking about expectations. (It’s amazing what pops into one’s head in the middle of the night.) I spent 24 years in corporate marketing before I retired and I spent many of those years dealing with performance reviews based on expectations.

The typical review was based on ‘below expectations’, ‘meets expectations’, and ‘exceeds expectations’. These, of course, were one’s boss’s expectations. How they were derived were more about how much your boss liked you or what the corporation set as a required bell curve for reviews than how well you did your job. This is because expectations are highly subjective and very difficult to define concretely. I remember one time where I felt I had a stellar year and got a ‘meets expectations’ review. I talked to my boss and he agreed that I had a stellar year but then said, “I expected that of you.”

There are ways to try to quantify expectations – e.g. ‘put together 4 marketing kits for the year’. Well, if you put together 5 did you exceed expectations? Only if your boss thinks so. Maybe he would expect 6 in order to get an ‘exceeds’ expectations review.

So how does this relate to playing the horn? I think how ‘good’ we are is based mostly on expectations. For a pro there is a standard of expectations that needs to be met to get that gig or to get an orchestra job or a teaching position. Who defines what that standard is? The person or group who is doing the hiring. They may expect a candidate to play musically as most important and not mind a missed note or three. (Hopefully.) Or they may base everything on technical capability. They may even reject a candidate because he/she is too good and they expect that the person will leave soon for a better position. Did the person who gets the job ‘exceed’ their expectations? Probably but you’ll never know.

For the amateur I think expectations are more personal. There can be the same audition judging expectations for the community orchestra but many times our expectations define a ‘good’ practice day from a ‘bad’ one or a good horn solo in the orchestra from a bad one. You may think you didn’t play your best but the audience, with entirely different expectations, thinks it was wonderful.

When working with a teacher, I think it’s probably a good idea to talk about expectations. Rather than thinking your teacher expects you to play something perfectly (which is impossible) they most likely expect you to just improve. If they assign ‘this, this, and that’ find out what their expectations are. Maybe for the next lesson they just want the dynamics correct and don’t care so much about getting all the notes right. If they assign the Ab major scale most likely they expect you to know it by memory at the next lesson. But find out.

I usually write down how I think I did as I practice but it occurs to me that it might be beneficial to first write down what I expect of myself for my practice session. Maybe it’s just playing four measures of a piece I’m working on without any clams or playing the first two lines of a Kopprasch exercise without missing any notes. Whatever it is it needs to be realistic or I’m just setting myself up for failure and guaranteeing a ‘bad’ day. If I can come up with a reasonable set of expectations and accomplish them – the more specific I make them the easier it will be to determine if I accomplished them – then I can walk away from a practice session feeling good. There will always be days when I don’t meet my expectations but at least I’ll have a solid reason for why it’s a bad day and a goal to do better the next day. Maybe I’m preaching to the choir but that’s what happens with ideas formulated at 2 AM.

Goals –>

Summer season finally over

With the exception of a band concert on the beach on Saturday my summer schedule of weekly rehearsals followed by weekly concerts for both of the bands I’m in is finally over. Phew. Add to that my trips to IHS and the Barry Tuckwell Institute (BTI) it’s been quite a summer. Then there’s the weekly lessons with Lynn and the monthly lessons with Scott Bacon. I have not had much time to actually practice.

My drive back in June from IHS took longer than it should have so I didn’t play my horn for about six days. That resulted, strangely enough, in a big improvement in my playing ability. This improvement lasted for a week or two and then I went to the BTI. I had a fabulous time there but since then my chops have been shot. I have not recovered yet from playing for more than three hours each day.

I’ve tried cutting back my playing time to about an hour from my previous, before BTI, two hours of daily practice. I’ve skipped days here and there. I’ve spent a lot of time practicing long, low notes and easy arpeggios. Nothing is really helping. I’m pretty sure that my band schedule isn’t helping the situation because we play fff almost all the time. Rehearsals run from an hour and a half to two hours and the concerts are an hour.

I’ve managed to barely maintain the level of technical capability I reached since IHS but my tone is pretty bad. It’s fuzzy and screechy. This is my typical problem when I’m having a bad day and I know I’ve mentioned it many times before. Then there are days when I just can’t play anything. I’ve always had bad days here and there, even two or three in a row. I think this current spell of bad days sets a record for me. It’s been three and a half weeks of poor to mediocre playing and no endurance. I’m dealing with this pretty well I think. I’m not rushing out to change mouthpieces or trying to find some gadget that will cure all. I haven’t changed my warmup routine. I’m more annoyed than frustrated. Enough already with this.

I am hoping that when I get back into my normal routine of practicing that this bad spell will get go away.  It’s way more fun to practice when I’m playing at the level of my expectations. If another week goes by without any improvement then I’ll have to dive deeper into what’s going on. Right now I’m still calm.

Expectations –>