Daily Practice

Jeffrey Agrell

Keys to Optimal Horn Practice

•Organization: Knowing what, when, how, and how much to practice.
•Showing up (regularity, consistency, perseverance). Wood Allen once said “90% of success is showing up.” Establish a routine: it gets things done.
•Variety. To be able to acquire the necessary quantity of practice as well as flexibility (being ready for anything), practice routine needs to be enlivened with imaginative variations.
•There are two main kinds of practice: Woodshedding (slowly working out individual technical problems) and Review (playing straight through what has already been mastered). Most of your practice should be woodshedding. Review of technical material (scales, arpeggios), solos, etudes, excerpts – comes later after considerable methodical practice.

Traditional study is primarily concerned with learning to intrepret and perform sequences of notes and expressive indications extremely accurately, as well as being able to do this consistently in performance. This aspect includes acquiring familiarity and knowledge of the (written music) music, composer, style, as well as performance traditions of the instrument. It is very important to acquire the ability to interpret written music excellently at sight. This ‘literate’ approach means knowing how to practice and finally master written material.

Study areas include:

1. Etudes

2. Solos

3. Orchestral excerpts

4. Transposition

5. Sight reading. Scan the music for difficulties first. No stopping for mistakes. Use a metronome to help keep you going in tempo; choose a tempo where you can get almost all the notes. Keep eyes focused a beat or two ahead of notes being played – so you know what’s coming.

6. Extended techniques: stopped horn, flutter tonguing, multiphonics. These may entail special symbols.

Comprehensive musicianship requires a player to be as comfortable playing without sheet music in front of her as with it. This aural approach aids the acquisition of fluency, facility, and flexibility with the instrument, with music, musical expression. The players thus learns to ‘think in music’, a skill that is impossible if the instrument is can only be played in the immediate presence of ink.

Aural practice (by memory, by ear, by heart) areas include:

1. Warm-up - Athletes have regular daily exercise routines to warm-up, for flexibility, to review and increase skill and strength in their sport. They also vary their routine from time to time. We should do the same.
Warm-up items:
a. Mouthpiece buzzing (scales and slurs)
b. Overtone series arpeggios (slurred)
c. Long tones (+ < and >)

2. Technical studies
Included are scales (major, minor, chromatic and other) and arpeggios, patterns (cyclic and diatonic), and interval exercises. Vary articulations, accents, rhythms, meters, dynamics, tempos in order to increase interest and flexibility.

4. Other technical areas:
•Tonguing: single, double, triple. Use in scale and arpeggio work.
•Trills – whole tone lips trills; also practice half-step valves trills for smoothness, speed, and consistency
•Range – high and low

5. Creative music – put the scales, arpeggios, patterns and imagination to work. Use improvisation to get deeper knowledge of written materials by ‘thinking in music,’ not to mention having a lot of fun doing using your ears and doing technique practice. Making up your own music is most enjoyable and valuable when practicing with a partner. When no human partner is available, use a rhythm source: metronome, computer program (Band in a Box, GarageBand, etc.), electronic keyboard auto-accompaniment, and so on.

6. The final step of learning an etude, excerpt, or solo below is to be able to play it without the ink, i.e memorized. Better yet, it should be beyond memorized – it should be learned so well that the technique is automatic and happens effortlessly when desired.