One word that I consistently use with my students is balance. In addition to my primary horn teachers, two strong influences in my musical career are the late Arnold Jacobs and Carmine Caruso. Both of those great teachers often talked about keeping things in balance. A few obvious parameters that we must keep in balance include: the amount of time spent practicing on purely technical matters versus time spent on matters of interpretation, high register playing versus low register playing, soft versus loud, staccato versus legato, etc. Ideally, we need to bring all of our weaknesses to the point where they are only observable by us, not our listeners. There are other important things that must be kept in balance to make one a complete horn player and a complete musician: having strong self confidence while staying humble and teachable, individuality versus blending skills, “section leader” versus “supportive role” skills, etc. There are countless other pairs that may be added to this list. These are qualities that must be examined in each student. The experienced teacher must supplement the student’s self-assessment to provide the most intelligent “prescription” for improvement. The teacher also must help prepare the student for the later phases of musical growth, the period when the student becomes his or her own teacher.
My primary horn teachers were Arthur Berv (principal horn, NBC Symphony, Arturo Toscanini, conductor) at the Manhattan School of Music and Ranier DeIntinis (third horn, New York Philharmonic) at the Juilliard School of Music. In recent years, I have also had horn lessons and been involved in musical collaborations with Dale Clevenger (Chicago Symphony) and Roland Pandolfi (Saint Louis Symphony). Dale Clevenger and I have performed several chamber music works together, and I regularly perform as an extra/substitute musician with the Saint Louis Symphony, including several European and North American tours.
I am excited about working with students who are highly motivated, hard working, and open to experimentation.
The “pre-warmup” and “warmup” elements listed below are suggested as the most basic parts of a daily routine. Additionally, fingering patterns, single tonguing, multiple tonguing, interval studies, and other technical parameters, such as dynamics and intonation (yes, intonation can actually be practiced!) should be included as necessary.
Be reasonable about the amount of actual playing during a practice session. Make sure that an adequate amount of time is allotted for recovery following strenuous work. It is wise to divide more than one and one half hours per day of practice time into two or more sessions.
Ideally, about 40% of available practice time should be spent on advancing one’s technical proficiency, and the other 60% should be spent on musical interpretation.
Many successful athletes and their coaches have found that maintaining a “training diary” is an indispensable part of good training. I believe that keeping a “practice diary” (or “log” or “journal”) is equally important for a brass player.
Set goals. Establish the mental attitude for quality practice.
- Stretch, if necessary. Prepare the body to be able to go through the range of motion necessary to utilize a complete breath.
- Perform breathing exercises.
Breathing “in thirds”
Timing the inhalations and exhalations
- Buzz just a small amount without the mouthpiece (“free buzzing”), then a greater amount with it. See “Noodling,” “Spider Web,” and “Broken Chords,” or use your imagination to create personalized melodies or exercises. Hold the mouthpiece with your “weak” hand, and hold your other hand in front of the mouthpiece, in order to feel the movement of your air against your palm.
“Noodling” or something similar – Begin by playing moving (not “static”) notes. The “spiderwebs/noodlings” are traditional chromatic and diatonic warm-up patterns. Use them as a starting point to customize your own exercises.
- Scales, Special – Daily (or weekly, in the early stages) emphasis on scales constructed on a chosen tonic or key center.
- Scales, General – Perform all twelve majors or minors daily, emphasizing the appropriate variation for juries or auditions as necessary. Daily practice of scales on all twelve tonics promotes good intonation. The default articulation is slurred.
- Quality Tones – There are many ways to practice “long tones.” I believe that thinking of this type of study as a search for your “center of resonance” on various notes is highly beneficial. The “center of resonance” is the point at which one gets the most results from the least effort. Find it by “trial and error” experimentation: different balances between the amounts of tension in facial muscles, tongue arch, jaw position, etc. Use a slow vibrato; don’t be inhibited. Intonation is irrelevant when you are trying to find your “center of resonance” – just search for the best tone. Slides should be adjusted afterward to enable the best compromise for notes whose centers are found to be above and below the equal tempered level. Aligning the “centers of resonance” with the “centers of intonation” for as many notes as possible will promote efficient playing. Use mostly “F” horn. Experiment with different kinds of attacks. Occasionally listen to your tone without the right hand in the bell.
- Attacks – Perform quality repetitions, stressing your weak areas (a troublesome dynamic level, or a type of attack, sustain, or release). In the practice of attacks, like any other technical parameter, specificity is the key. Do the greatest amount of practice on your weak areas. If your soft, light attacks are worse than your loud, forceful ones, do more of the former. If your “bouncy” ones are better than your “declamatory” ones, do the latter. Practice extra repetitions of things that are problematic.
- Flexibility Exercises – Do many repetitions of exercises that cross harmonics (partials), i.e., “Lip Slurs,” “Tour of the Harmonic Series,” “Lip Trills.” Also practice traditional arpeggio exercises like those in the Philip Farkas book, “The Art of French Horn Playing.”