Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Summer!

Things that you like are naturally included in your spare time. This goes for horn too! I hope we all like horn playing. If you do it should naturally follow that you play over the summer. If this sounds oppressive, then just play for fun! Any playing helps, even a little bit. I know how it is to just want to relax and do nothing over the summer (guilty!) but I hope that everyone can pick up their horn and play through etudes or solos that they like.

I certainly plan on playing. My goal is to go through the entire Schuller etude book (mentioned in the previous blog). I might also be practicing the Telemann horn concerto.

Because we aren't being pressed to play because of school, you should make sure to keep it fun! But also remember that learning and challenging yourself can be refreshing and invigorating. So keep yourself fresh over the summer! You will not regret it.

Gunther Schuller's Studies for Unaccompanied Horn: a review

While the book could've simply been called 'etudes for horn,' I believe this is one of the better atonal etude books out there. Each of the 13 etudes are based off of a repeated rhythmic or interval-based pattern. Like other atonal etude books, this one will certainly improve your sense of pitch and your accuracy. But unlike some other atonal studies, each etude to me has a nice easy-to-identify idea, a nice flow, and a real sense of musicality. The first etude for instance is slow and lyrical, and even seems to have antecedent and consequent phrases.

The Schuller etudes are excellent for improving your large-interval slurs! Almost every etude has slurs that span augmented octaves and beyond.

I would highly recommend this book for those of you who are looking for a refreshing type of etude.

Pedagogy Gems

- the tongue doesn't start the note, the air does. Just let the tongue fall as the air pushes through.
- practice isolated single tones in all registers

A Daily Routine
- the routine for every player is unique
- avoid distractions
- your routine must work on your problem areas as well as reinforce fundamentals

- the note before the high note is almost more important than the high note
- low range is all about sensitive adjustment of the oral cavity
- high range air = small volume, high speed. Low range air = large volume, low speed

Improv Part III: Listening

Improvisation also shows you the ideal way to listen to music. While improvising in a group, you must be constantly thinking about rhythm, tonality, style and form, and about what you need to add that is appropriate to the piece. You must listen intently and know exactly what is going on on every level. This type of in-depth listening goes beyond what is necessary for the average player, and can serve as an example of how we should be listening to music in the first place.

Not a single note or rhythm in a composed piece was placed there by accident; they are all there to express an overall mood, feeling, image, or story. If every aspect of such music has a purpose, it should all receive attention from our ears. Listening this way increases the satisfaction that one can get from listening.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pedagogy Gems

Over the years, I have acquired many little teaching phrases or sayings that can help in correct playing technique. I shall share some with you here!

- bring in the air naturally from the lips
- inhale so no one can hear it
- let the notes float on a steam of air

- use a half-pucker, half-smile
- for a better tone, use less "squeeze" in your lips

- a good buzz is halfway between loose/airy and tight/constricted
- keep your mouth an oval shape, as if you had an egg in your mouth
- aim for a big, rich sound

More categories to come!

Improv Part II: Technique

Improvising also puts you at the edge of your abilities in scales, arpeggios, intervals, and overall technique on your instrument. When creating or even copying a melody in a certain key, you are forced to think of the scale as a horizontal palette of available pitches, not just an up-and-down sequence. This use of scale can sharpen your sense of interval, especially when imitating another player or playing a melody that you have in your head. This kind of practice will make run-of-the-mill scales a walk in the park.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Franz Strauss Fantasie (Op. 2): a review

This is an absolutely wonderful piece, one of my favorites from the Romantic era for horn. It features four main movements (the second of which is a theme/variations, sort of 3 mvts. in one), each with its own character.

The 1st and 3rd movements are slow, very legato, and provide an excellent opportunity for very expressive and Romantic (over-the-top emotional!) playing. The 2nd movement is a theme and variations. The Thema is only in quarter notes, but the two successive variations take from the style of The Carnival of Venice (don't worry, it's not as difficult!). Plently of Kopprash-like passages in here! The fourth movement is a Russian dance, and has a delightful, bouncy dance melody that'll get stuck in your head.

Overall the Franz Strauss Fantasie is an excellent piece, chock full of delightful Romantic idiosyncrasies, and with plenty of opportunities for technical and lyrical playing.

TED video: Music and Passion (Benjamin Zander)

This is a video I absolutely MUST share with anyone who likes (or even dislikes) classical music. A well-known educator, Benjamin Zander, talks at a TED conference about classical music, its essence, and how it is so important still today and how it awakens passion within us. He is charismatic, enthusiastic, and engaging, and I guarantee you won't want to stop this video after you start it. Enjoy!

Here is the link.

Improv as a Practical Tool

Can improvisation, which involves no written music, be practically helpful to an instrumentalist? Let’s answer this question with another: is there a link between artistic expression and written music, or are we just following the directions? Do we just play that crescendo, or do we sometimes feel ourselves energized by it? If a marking on a score says to play a passage “joyously,” how do we know what that means?

Improvisation teaches you to synthesize these styles and emotions, and learning to do this can help a great deal to develop your stylistic and expressive playing as an instrumentalist. If you know how to make a piece that sounds like Mozart, doesn’t that mean that you understand the style? Improvisation exercises that involve expressing an emotion, feeling, or adjective also transfer directly to performance practice. If you can make a piece or a melody that expresses anxiousness, gracefulness, sorrow, fury, or alarm, that would indicate understanding of how to express those emotions through music, and you would use those tools come time to play.

The Arutunian Horn Concerto: a review

As many of you know, I played the Arutunian concerto for our studio recital. I picked the piece because I wanted something off the beaten path, and its scales and weird passages interested me.

The piece is in two movements - one insanely slow (quarter = 40) and one insanely fast (5/8 measure = 70). The first mvt. is technically easy. The only hurdle is that the horn is on your face a lot, and the slow tempo increases that. But even for someone like me with endurance problems, it was simply a matter of forcing myself to play through everything at least twice a day during the time leading up to the recital.

The 2nd movement is a beast. Given that the first couple pages really only contain scalar material, they should fly by pretty quick, as long as you can get into a grove with the 5/8 time (but that's the real trick isn't it?). The scales take a lot from Russian and eastern European folk music, and use a lot of augmented 2nds. The last page contains a monster of an arpeggio lick, which can only be conquered through repetition.

But at the end, the solo wasn't very intimidating once I got it in my head and under my fingers. Just a matter of repetition. I would recommend it!

The Indispensable Bach Cello Suites

Bach's Cello Suites, transcribed for horn, were a stepping stone for me in developing smooth large-interval slurs and a controlled lower register. Besides some Classical and Romantic 2nd horn parts (and some difficult solo passages), there are not many demands for this type of flexible, controlled playing. The Cello Suites ask you to play leaps greater than octaves as part of a musical phrase, not just as separate notes.

The music is also of very high quality, and they aren't very hard on your face. Coming from one of the greatest composers of all time, the pieces have counterpoint, complex harmonies, beautiful melodies, and a wonderful flow, all with just one line of music. A must have for any horn player.

Atonal Etudes

If there is one thing that has helped me with my sense of pitch and interval with horn, it has been atonal etudes. The etude books of Gunther Schuller, Charles Decker, Falk, and Cheynes (the last two are part of that whole French scene of etude books). Even some solos, like those of Alec Wilder, are exploratory enough to through your ear for a loop.

The Decker book is devoted to 12-tone work and is technically the easiest. Each etude is based on a row which is display at the top. The Schuller etudes are more pattern-and-variation based (my personal favorite). They are somwhat Kopprasch-like in this respect, but much more interesting and fun! The Falk and Cheynes are quite tough and require a lot of work.

If you ever want to explore new and interesting ground in your non-solo work, give these books a shot!