Saturday, February 27, 2010

Playing Horn is Like Golf

From a come back player:


We were watching a movie about golf tonight during dinner. The theme of it was that everyone has their own swing, unlike anyone else’s which they have to find in order to play well. That led me to think about how I had been experimenting with thinking about Mozart One, 1st movement. How was I going to play each note: pitch, how to tongue it, what fingering to use, where was I coming from, where was I going? The piece represents a milestone for me for reasons I'll explain some other time.

It was an exhausting experiment. It took me forty minutes to get through the piece. Then I played it through with out stop, and found that I had decreased the number of errors, chipped notes, etc by at least half, and those errors were because I hadn't sufficiently internalized the decisions I had made during the earlier practice.

I am starting to think that the really great players do the same thing, but do it so quickly, as to make it seem that they are "naturals." Someone once told me that there is less difference between the results that amateurs can achieve versus professionals, than how long it takes them to achieve the same result. I always liked that, because it gave me hope that with sufficient effort, I could achieve the results I desire. Needless to say the horn is providing a daunting challenge to that aspiration.

Well, some aspirations take longer than others. I tried a trill in einsetzen tonight, and the best I can report is that I think it is possible. Lest you laugh, that is a huge leap for me. I never thought before BE that I could play above the pedals in einsetzen. BE is showing me that the operative part of the word "assume" is the first three letters. That's what you make of yourself if you don't ever challenge what you think you know. I love the quote you have about the person who thought the concept was stupid, and then found out who was really stupid. Been there done that.

I also learned today that I haven't spent nearly enough time earnestly working on lip slurs. Is it too late for New Year's resoulutions?


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Notion of Unifying the Embouchure

The BE development system has exercises in two main categories: (1) the extreme roll-out which favors low notes, (2) the extreme roll-in which favors high notes. The exercises challenge the player to push the envelop of embouchure function by extending the range within the categories. The roll-out embouchure exercises start on double pedals and ascend as far as possible upwards with the roll-out set up. The roll-in exercises mirror image this by extending use of the roll-in embouchure into the lowest possible range.

The goal of BE is to use these and other exercises, plus specific tonguing and breathing techniques to give the brass player the technical skill to use a continuous flexing of the lips to navigate the full range of the instrument minimizing and ultimately eliminating awkward embouchure changes.

In the quote below, David G. aptly described this goal as "unifying the embouchure" in his memory of a past insight that embodies a key principle of the BE development system:

For some unknown reason . . . I remembered that years ago someone wrote to the horn list about having a break in embouchure somewhere in the midst of our tessitura - a point where he/she had to change embouchures. I wrote in to recommend practicing playing a simple scale from the bottom to see where the break occurred, then playing a scale from the top down to see where the break occurred, and assuming that there was overlap - there had to be - that it was worthwhile to extend those breakpoints as much as possible until it might happen that there would no longer be any break point. There was a bit of other advice, but the one that stood out in my mind was the one that pooh-poohed the notion of unifying the embouchure. Well, that's a chortle. I guess the idea was a very primitive first pass at BE.
Thanks for sharing, David.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Feedback from a 3rd year Horn Student of BE

Kyra is the second horn player I shared BE with over three years ago. When we met, she had been playing horn for about 7 years. At the time, Kyra and I had several things in common: limited range, limited endurance, rotten tone and a strong desire to improve! We used to kid around about being the gals in the band who "pretended to be horn players!" Kyra is a busy mom and music educator who is limited in the amount of time she can devote to practicing, but she has disciplined herself to include BE exercises into her daily routine. I've enjoyed watching tiny Kyra, maybe 100 pounds soaking wet, grow into an strong horn player with a nice big sound and formidable range. Below is a message I received from Kyra in response to a "BE for French Horn" email I recently distributed.


Thanks for the info! I am still practicing BE, and I still love it! My low register is 1000 times better!! I can hit a double pedal C any day, any time. Still working on my upper register, still can't hit a High D all the time, but High C is always there.


Sheesh, Kyra! Too bad about that unreliable High D, but I think you're doing just fine. I also think you're a real horn player now! Thanks for sharing your success with other horn players!


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Horn Players, Beware!

Doug, a trombone player, decided to take up French horn 4+ years ago. New to BE, he's coming on strong, so horn players beware! With Doug's permission, I'm sharing an email I received from him yesterday.


What I'm noticing is that everything feels better. This is how it used to feel when I was playing all the time, chops in great shape, and fearless about going for notes. Kamakazi horn if you will. I've been inspired by Bruno (what a great name for a horn player) and got out the Mozart Horn quintet. The last time I attempted it, it was pure struggle, today it was approachable. The thing that just made me set my horn down in awe, was that eight bars from the end there is a high C eighth note approached from a C an octave lower and followed by eighth note D a seventh lower. That sucker popped out like I'd been doing it all my life. It was so much fun I did it five more times.

I used to belong to a new age church that taught us to visualize and believe in what we wanted to do, before it manifested itself. So sometimes I'm a dreamer. My dream is to sit amongst four strings, in my tux, forty pounds lighter, and blow everyone away with my definitive rendition of the Mozart Horn quintet. What do you think? Well, OK. Like I said, I'm a dreamer.

OH. GOOD HEAVENS! You are going to laugh at me. I just realized that this piece is for Horn in Eb. I've been playing it in F! I'm going to have to turn in my IHS membership card as they paint a yellow stripe down my back and drum me out of the corps and confiscate my 8D! Later. I have to go try this again.