All sorts of stuff

Wow, I’m actually writing something in my blog. I have made it through school and now have a BS in Music with an emphasis in horn. I don’t have the actual piece of paper yet but that should show up in about a month. It took me 3 and a half years, yet the time has flown by. I am a better horn player but I still have so far to go. Sometimes it seems endless. I have mentioned numerous times in my blog that I’ve finally figured out how to use air. Well, 4 and a half years later, I finally understand what I should do but it isn’t a habit yet. When I use air correctly it makes a huge difference in how I play. I still have a lot of issues with articulation. When I think I am playing nice short notes my teacher says they sound legato. I used to have what I call ‘first note itis’ where I consistently missed the first note of a piece or phrase but that has gone away. Funny how you have to concentrate to play the horn.

My most recent ‘aha’ moment is that I’ve discovered that my mind wanders when I’m playing. I realized this a few weeks ago when I was practicing for my senior recital and I decided to write down what I was thinking. The list was huge. Everything from homework that’s due, to where to get dinner, to making an appointment to get my car serviced, to the ugly pink shorts the jogger running past my house was wearing. Somehow I’ve got to fix this. It’s better now that I’m aware of it, but it’s really got to go away entirely.

I’ve been through quite a bunch of horns since 2009. I started with a Yamaha, the one that was in the closet when I started playing again. Then a Hoyer, an Otto, a Conn 8D, a Schmid, and now an Otto 180K JN. Geesh. I adore the Otto and will probably play it forever. For anyone who thinks a different horn will make them a better player, forget it. Different horns will give you different sound, color, projection, maybe comfort but in my experience, if you can’t articulate (put in your particular poison here) decently on one horn you won’t articulate decently on another horn. I think a lot of amateurs, including me, turn to equipment to solve problems. New equipment, whether horns, mouthpieces, or some other gizmo, may seem great for a week or two but in the end you play the way you play. This is my experience. YMMV.

I’ve been going back and forth about continuing school for a Masters. In the middle of this last semester I was so overwhelmed with everything I had to finish that I decided not to continue. Now that I’m actually done, I’ve changed my mind. I realized that I just can’t give up school entirely and go back to playing 4th horn in two community bands. In school I’m playing all the time – chamber music, band, wind ensemble, orchestra, recitals, etc. – and I love it. I’ll be taking one class each semester and because I’m enrolled in school I get to play in all the ensembles for free. How perfect is that?

This is all for now but watch for more posts about some of the challenges I had in school, what it was like living in a dorm a couple of days a week, dealing with recitals, my dropped horn and a few toys that I actually have found useful.

12 thoughts on “All sorts of stuff

      • Please!! PLEASE!! Post POST! I would LOVE to hear you play. I was desperate for some inspiration and only a couple of days ago found your blog! I can’t believe how inspiring it is (and you are!). I am 66 years old and just today bought my first horn. I used school instruments some 45 years ago. I can’t tell you how happy it made me to bring this new (el cheapo) horn to my lips and play that first…..ahem….noise. I am actually going to get a teacher after I can at least do a simple scale or two (forgot all my fingering…just like you did). I don’t want to wait to long before get all my bad habits back. Thank you so much for all these wonderful posts. Martin

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      • Hi Martin – Thanks for writing! Congratulations on your new horn! You will have a wonderful journey. I recommend getting a teacher soon. As you mention you don’t want to develop bad habits because they are really hard to undo. I know two excellent teachers that will teach by Skype if you don’t live near anyone. I promise I will write more often. I have a draft that I started a few days ago so that will post shortly. Sincerely, Tina.

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      • Hi Tina,
        Really nice to hear from you and thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement. I will keep your Skype teachers in mind. I live in San Diego County and there are some horn teachers here. I’m thinking one of the immediate advantages to a real person getting me started is that I can hand my VERY inexpensive horn to them and hear (I’m sure) it played wonderfully. That will go a long ways towards me getting away from the blaming my equipment ‘trap’. I am in the hunt for a bunch of mouthpieces though. I’m going to get at least a few and try the middle of the road versions. Although I’ve completely forgotten what little I knew of the horn I do have a little bit of an advantage musically from that of a complete beginner. I am, or I should say was (now retired), a pro bass player for over 40 years in the L.A. recording scene and touring nationally. I did a fair amount of TV/film recording on electric bass guitar (Most all of Mike Post’s TV stuff, Rockford Files, Magnum, A-Team, Hill St. Blues, Quantum Leap, you know…that kind of stuff). But…I was ALWAYS listening to the horns—my favorite! I’ve also played a lot of symphony gigs on electric bass with the Smothers Brothers when they were doing their symphony book on the road. From the Honolulu Symphony to the Boston Pops, even the DC National Orchestra. It’s been an absolute blast, but always, lurking was the desire to play horn like I did as a youngster. So over the years while on electric bass I was sitting right smack in the middle of many great orchestras! You can’t take better music lessons than that—believe me. It’s really a humbling experience. As for now? It’s time for just plain fun. My only goal is perhaps, maybe, fingers crossed, someday? A 4th horn chair in a small community orchestra? That may be wishful thinking, but I don’t care. (as long as the don’t drag me out of my horn chair and make me play bass! Ha!) I am really going to enjoy this adventure and I am so overjoyed to have found your blog! What a great treat to read and it’s perfect for people that want to get back into it. I am going down your “All My Posts” and reading every single one. You write well, and have a such a wonderful sense of humor which makes it a real joy to follow along what I have to look forward to! Take care, and I may be yelling for help soon! No doubt there will be some great suggestions here and along the way. All the best and thanks again for what you do…
        Martin
        PS – today; day two, my lips have left my face. But like yesterday they’ll be back tomorrow! 😉 The best I can manage is play the middle harmonic sequence and a couple of crackling gurgling scales (had to look up the fingering! Ha!) And let’s don’t even think about pitch. But what fun!!!

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      • Hi Martin,
        Wow! Awesome career! Clearly musicianship is not an issue for you. The best suggestion I can make is to use your air to blow thru a phrase. Maybe think of it as a long bowing. Don’t blow ‘note to note.’ Your goal is the end of the phrase. Think of your scales as phrases. I think the hardest thing to get right on a horn is how to use air correctly. I certainly wrote enough posts saying ‘I got it’ when I hadn’t. That is probably the single most important reason to get a good teacher. It’s extremely hard to fix using air incorrectly. My teacher used to say blow thru the notes and I didn’t really understand what that meant until about six months ago. I thought I was blowing but I was actually letting up on the air between each note.

        I’m sure you will find a community orchestra to play with but until you do try joining a band. Bands use as many horns as show up for rehearsal – 4, 8, 10, whatever. It’s not like orchestras where you don’t double parts. So you can join as a 4th horn and you will probably have someone sitting with you which is great because you get to play what you can and you don’t have to worry about what you can’t play yet. I’ve got a new 4th horn in my section who started up again after 38 years just a few months ago. She is doing really well. If she has any questions I give her some pointers. I’ll address your horn on face time question in my next reply.
        ~Tina

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      • Yes…air Air AIR! I always run out! I have been taking your suggestion of using my scale practice as a long phrase. Whew! Tough! That air thing is going to be a hard thing to remember and use properly. It seems so simple but I continually do not take enough air and I don’t know how to use it. Teacher to the rescue soon I hope. Great idea about seeking out a rehearsal band instead of an orchestra. I makes all the sense. I had not even considered that and I’m going to look into a band for sure. I’m sure I could hide as 10th horn…with maybe my bell facing the drummers! 🙂

        That’s really cool that your 4th horn person is coming back to the horn after a long layoff too. I wonder if the horn keeps calling us all back? I’m glad it did me. I’m having a wonderful time struggling. I know that sounds funny, but that’s the way I feel. Maybe if it was my only instrument it might bother me more, but I can always reach up and pull my bass guitar off the wall rip off a few “hot licks” on that thing. I’ve done enough of that. Booooring…. 🙂

        Martin

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      • Hi Martin – I wrote replies to both your comments but they don’t look like they are replies. They are not indented so you may not get notified that I replied to you. Let me know if you have a problem finding them.

        Tina

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      • One thing I didn’t explain correctly. With the breathing exercise breathe in over 4 beats and out with a whole note, four quarter notes and another whole note. I tested the exercise this morning and realized that I forgot about the whole notes last night. You should have used all your air at the end of the last whole note. Set your metronome so that you can complete the exercise. ~Tina

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      • Hi Tina,

        Yes, I did get both your responses just fine—thanks so much! Also thanks for the clarification on the breathing exercise tip. Wheww! What a relief! I was on the verge of passing out! ….just kidding. But I really did take in a lot more air consistently today. That is going to be the most difficult thing to remember to do. The last couple of days have not been great, but I’m hanging in there. I’ve got two new books showing up tomorrow; the Rubank Elementary book and the First Book of Practical Studies by Getchell. I also found some very cool etudes over on hornmatters.com in their PDF download library. I downloaded the four Mozart pieces too, and for laughs read them down while listening to them performed on YouTube. I don’t think I’ll be playing those pieces any time soon! Ha! Thanks again for your help and tips along the way. ~Martin

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      • Hi Martin,
        Air is certainly the most difficult thing for me. It’s almost a habit. At least I finally know what I need to do. Rubank is the book I started on. I don’t know the Getchell. When you practice with the Rubank try to make each note as clean as possible. Don’t just plow thru the exercises. Take a deep breath and blow steadily – ta – ta – ta – ta (or whatever syllable works for you that gets you a clean front of the note – e.g. ti or tu.) Always think in phrases. Try slurring the notes. That can give you an idea of what the air should feel like. Then do the same tonguing the notes. I write ‘breathe’ or ‘air’ all over my music. For me that helps.
        Keep asking questions. I’m happy to answer.
        ~Tina

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  1. The good thing about struggling is the wonderful feeling you get when you finally get something right. It makes all the frustration worthwhile.

    Here’s a trick I use to help with air. Set your metronome around quarter note = 80. Download an app if you don’t have one. Think in 4/4 time. Assuming your horn is clean or at least doesn’t have junk in it, loosely set your embouchure and take air in thru your mouthpiece (which is in your horn) as deeply as possible starting on beat one and having a full tank on beat four. Then without any break play 4 notes of your scale blowing out very steadily and staying in time. Once this is nice and smooth slow your metronome down around 6 ticks and repeat. Keep slowing your metronome down and you’ll get used to taking in enough air. Play around with the exercise once you have the 4 beat version down pat. e.g. take air in over 8 beats and play 8 beats. Play ascending notes and then descending notes. Play loud, play soft. Etc.

    If you are uncomfortable breathing thru your horn pucker your lips so you make a circle and put your index finger in front of your lips and pull in air. The disadvantage of this approach is that you have to then pick up your horn while holding your breath before you can play. You want to think of air as a continuous circle in and out without any breaks and the finger in front of you lips forces a break. However you will still get what it should feel like to suck in air correctly. Be careful not to get light headed.

    Let me know if this helps ~Tina

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