My school journey – the first two years

Back in the spring of 2010 I decided that it would be a good idea to learn some theory. I went over to Suffolk County Community College and tried to register for a theory class beginning in the fall. They said no, you have to enroll in the music department and be a full-time student. Oh boy. And you have to pass a music equivalency test or take a music basics class over the summer and convince the music department to accept you. Huh? This is a community college. At least I didn’t have to audition. I opted to take the summer class since I had no formal music education and when the class began I realized that I knew nothing. Fortunately I did well in this class and I decided to continue as a full time student. I was thrown into theory, aural skills, piano fundamentals, and of course horn lessons, ensembles and juries. OMG.

When I started classes I worried a bit about how the other students would react to having someone older than their mothers in their classes. I didn’t need to worry. The kids were great. For about two weeks they weren’t sure how to talk to me but we all got comfortable with each other and I was treated like any other student. What a relief.

In the beginning of the first semester I didn’t do well and I really┬ádidn’t understand why. I had no trouble understanding the lectures but I wasn’t passing my tests. I took a careful look at my incorrect answers and realized that I was reversing the alphabet constantly. If the answer required building an interval a major second above C I would start on Bb instead of D. All the time. Even when I figured out what I was doing and went back over the answers I still messed up the alphabet.

I went for testing and found out that I’m dyslexic. Wow, that explains a lot. I was given twice the time to take tests and usually by my third or fourth pass over my answers I found all the mistakes. If I hadn’t figured this out I wouldn’t have made it past the first semester. Some of the issues I still face due to the dyslexia is an inability to play scales even though I work on them every day. My sight reading is atrocious as is playing the correct rhythm. It’s all slowly getting better. I’ve done a lot of research on musicians with dyslexia and my problems are typical. For a while I used this as an excuse for why I couldn’t do some things but recently I finally realized that it was just going to take me longer to learn and that this is okay. I’m also coming up with different ways to learn. No more excuses, no more ‘can’t do that.’

On to year two. The classes were a continuation of year one except instead of piano I had music history. That has to be the hardest class I’ve taken so far. Brutal. There were many times during that fall semester that I wanted to quit. I was really overwhelmed and I constantly questioned why I was putting myself through this. However, I didn’t quit and I got my associates degree. The next step, Long Island University, Post Campus.

School Recap

Last week I finished my first year back in school. I did well and really enjoyed the experience. The mundane silly stuff that I was worried about – parking and walking to class from the lot on ice and snow – was a non-issue. I had some concerns about fitting in with the kids but that wasn’t an issue either. Everyone was as nice as they could be and even started including me in conversations after a few weeks.

In the first semester I struggled a bit with theory not because I didn’t understand it but because I kept making stupid mistakes. I finally realized that I was inverting letters of the alphabet. For example, if I was in the key of C and had to use the 2nd scale degree I would think B instead of D. Once I knew to check carefully for mistakes like that I started to do well in theory. I think I must have some form of dyslexia. I’ve never known my right from my left without checking which arm my watch is on and I’m not good at the alphabet unless I sing the ABC song. I switch the sequence of phone numbers all the time.

This leads me to my biggest problem which is playing scales. I’ve been practicing scales every day since I started playing the horn again. I know C by rote. I am just getting D and Bb by rote. The scales that I have to think about I mess up every time. I’ll get lost halfway through the scale or forget what scale I’m playing or think the wrong note. If I know the note I’m at I don’t have a problem knowing if it’s natural, sharp or flat but remembering that F comes after E is a problem. Going backwards is close to impossible. My problem with scales has hurt my jury grades and somehow I’m going to have to learn them.

I was talking to a horn teacher and friend of mine a few weeks ago and she was telling me that she’s teaching a high school student who is an excellent horn player but has the same problems with scales. She suggested working on just one scale at a time until I know it by rote and then moving on to the next one. I’ve been working on G for about a week now. At this rate maybe I’ll know the major scales by the end of the summer.

My second biggest problem is identifying intervals. I still can’t reliably identify major and minor thirds, especially harmonically. Since I’m having trouble with thirds, I have trouble identifying triads and their inversions. It also seems that the more I work at it the worse I get. For the most part I don’t have trouble with melodic dictation. I listen for reference notes and then figure out the intervals in the dictation from there. I do fine with sight singing also. I’m going to work on intervals everyday over the summer so I hope I get them in my ear by the time Aural Skills 3 starts in the fall.

With horn playing my challenges are still air and rhythm. I finally understand what it is that I need to do with air but very frequently I don’t remember to do it. I think once using air correctly becomes a habit my horn playing will improve a lot. For rhythm I practice with a metronome but I still have an amazing capacity to completely block it out. I must have at least six different metronomes – even some that poke me or buzz on my wrist – but none of them stop me from blocking them out. I have at least gotten to the point that after a few measures I realize that I’m not with the metronome anymore.

My last issue that has been plaguing me since the fall is my sound. I’ve already blogged about this but gosh it’s driving me crazy. My sound is overly bright and I’ve been playing around with different horns trying to find one that warms and darkens my sound. I love my Otto horn except for the sound I get from it. That’s a big ‘except’. My horn feels like an old friend, sort of like a favorite flannel shirt and I hate the thought of changing horns but this sound thing is making me miserable. I’m also still a novice so it’s probably not the best time to change horns. On the other hand, I’m playing the horn because I love playing the horn and not liking my sound makes playing a lot less fun. I’ve tried different right hand positions, different posture, and putting the horn on my chops at different angles but nothing seems to help. I wish a genie would just pop out of a bottle and grant my wish for a better sound on my Otto horn.