All My Posts

Posts in this list stop at the summer of 2010. Please use the list on the right side of my blog to find newer posts.

3 thoughts on “All My Posts

  1. Hi there I came across your blog today during my daily habitual, and honestly obsessive research into horn playing and it’s like looking into a mirror! The story of your progress is identical to mine in so many ways! It’s actually quite comforting to know that I’m not alone in my struggles.

    I’m actually in a similar situation to you as in I have taken up the horn again after a break (although its 6 years rather than several decades). I instantly fell in love with the instrument (this is 9 months ago btw) to the extent that I’ve actually made the decision to commit to playing it as a career, a decision which still feels a bit mad! haha. I’m currently in my second year at university studying music technology, and I hope to develop my playing enough over the course of my remaining year at the university and a gap year following so that I can apply for a postgraduate course in horn performance (wow…It’s daunting just saying it!).

    Needless to say the last few months have been really tough and I’ve been in a constant mental battle over whether I have what it takes to see it through. But I thought it would be interesting to share some ideas and experiences with you. There are probably quite a lot of things we could do to help each other.

    Probably the main thing which has come to mind having read your blog is that we beginners simply expect far too much too soon, and that alone can have detrimental effects on our progress. I think one thing which would help you (and me) is to slow right down. I noticed in your posts that you often talk of concertos and pieces where you describe having to really push yourself to play them. It’s taken me months to realise it but by practising on the very limit of your capabilities is almost completely useless, and I learnt this the hard way.

    My sole frustration over the last 4 months or so has been range and endurance, and despite practising for hours every day and playing in 3 musical groups there has been no improvement, and now I realise why. What I’ve been doing is simply playing scales from the middle up to the limit of my range hoping that it will magically open up…but in reality all I have been doing is reenforcing an inefficient means of playing. Now it has suddenly dawned on me that it wasn’t lack of strength which has been giving me range and endurance problems, it was simply lack of efficiency.

    I now realise that the only way to improve my range and endurance is to gradually increase efficiency by means of replicating the easy, relaxed, air driven feeling of the lower and middle ranges into the upper ranges (and similarly the relaxed feeling of MF into my FFs), all through repetition of the very basics…and air really is the key to this efficiency….
    I read someone say recently that “the most awkward realisation is that the high range doesn’t feel very different to the mid ranges, and in the same way loud playing doesn’t feel very different to soft” and it is so, so true. Yesterday I experienced this for the first time. Instead of playing a scale with a steady increase of tension and with a very closed aperture, I completely relaxed my whole embouchure, opened up the aperture and felt for the first time how incredibly easy it can be, and ironically how little air it actually requires when it is done right! Perhaps the biggest proof of this is in the huge variety of people can achieve professional standard, despite obvious physical shortcomings. For example I spotted a dwarf (sorry if this is an offensive term but I wasn’t sure what to use) playing principle trumpet in some footage of the Vienna philharmonic…and not only that he was playing Mahler! On top of this I have learned through some reading that trumpets require more air power to play than horns (I’ve read stories of trumpet players picking up horns and blasting out top C’s). He’s basically a perfect example of how anyone can make it to pro standard. In fact whenever I’m feeling like giving up I’m going to think of him!

    I think my next challenge is going to be maintaining the discipline to practise correctly and avoid simply “chop banging”. I repeatedly keep falling into the trap of banging out scales over and over whenever something doesn’t feel right in the hope of solving it, but all I’m doing is reenforcing bad habits, and the more I do it the more the bad habits take hold as they compensate for the tiring embouchure.

    Anyway sorry this is such a long post. I was just so intrigued to find someone going through such a similar experience to me. I hope my experiences help you as much as yours have helped me! Look out for me in the back row of major ochestra’s in 10 years or so, I’m determined to be sitting in one of those chairs! (Ok maybe that’s not going to happen)


  2. Hi Rhodri (and Hi Tina!),

    I am amazed at the number of people that have started horn later in their lives. I was a professional flutist for about 30 years and had to give it up due to a left shoulder problem. So I decided to play horn 2 years ago and fell in love and became totally obessesed! I am taking lessons with the principal horn of the Baltimore Symphony, playing in the Community Band and a Brass Quintet.

    Practicing correctly is certainly a key to success. That varies for everyone, but I think reenforcing bad habits, as you mentioned, Rhodri, is common. And having already been proficient on an instrument, it is very frustrating for me not to be able to play the Strauss Concertos!!!!! But I’m working on No. 1…… So I think you can push yourself but being careful not to use those bad habits in the process.

    Air and buzz! I read that somewhere in a post here. I think they are the key. And yes, sometimes everything comes together and for a short period I sound good, I know I’m doing things right. And then it goes away and I have to figure out exactly what I was doing so I can get it back…. It’s an adventure, a journey and I absolutely love it.

    I was happy to meet Tina at the BSO Academy and happy to read about so many others along the same road. Please keep the posts coming, Tina and everyone else. They are so helpful!



    • Hi Lyn!

      I’ve heard you play – I know you can conquer the Strauss!!!!!

      My left shoulder is killing me. I’m glad that yours isn’t bothering you when you play.

      Thanks for writing and I hope we can meet up again at the next BSO Academy.



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