Improv Duets for Classical Musicians by Jeffrey Agrell

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Just published by GIA: Improv Duets for Classical Musicians by me.

Excerpt from the Introduction:

“Playing duets from the ink is fun and full of musical vitamins, but it needs a complementary aural approach to develop all-around musicianship. Improvising – duets or otherwise – is not usually a part of a classical musician’s training, but this book aims to provide a quick and easy way for classical players to make up for this lack. Classical players may gasp at the thought of having to invent their own material, but if they go so far as to dare to try out an improvisation game like those in this book, they quickly discover that improvising does not have to mean playing bebop – it simply means making your own decisions about what to play, and that it is 1) easy and 2) fun, and 3) great for your technique and musicianship, especially working/playing with another person. Think of it this way: playing written duets is to improvising duets as reading the lines of dialogue of a play is to having a lively conversation. It is one kind of challenge to bring to life the art of a playwright in reading (or acting out) the lines of a play. It is a highly engaging and very different sort of challenge to explore a subject in extemporaneous conversation with a partner. You are both creating together in real time, playing off of each other, inspiring each other, coming up with material that neither could have invented on their own. An improvised duet is a musical conversation, and in the same way, you don’t plan ahead of time exactly what you’re going to say, but you take all of your combined knowledge, imagination, and emotions create and shape a brand new ‘performance’ that is surprising, gratifying, and invigorating. Improvising duets means ‘thinking in music.’ It takes gumption to get started doing this by yourself, but add another player and the internal blocks to the process melt away. In brief, improvised duets are a perfect complement to written duets and are a fun and effective way to develop technique and musicality.”

The Table of Contents:

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Electronic Horn: Really Good Fakes

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The video above is an audio sample of the horn samples from “Eastwest Hollywood Brass Gold Edition”. You can get the whole set on DVD for $549 on Amazon.com. This video is only of the horn(s); the whole set also has trumpets, trombone, and tuba. I have no idea how easy/hard it is to use these samples in electronic music composition, but my first thought in hearing this (just now, for the first time): as synths and samplers have been displacing live instruments for years, I was always convinced that they will never replace horns with electronic simulacrums; the fake versions always sound terrible, very fake (some instruments are easier to fake than others). But after hearing this, I have to admit: they’re getting closer. A lot closer.

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Arts Blog Central

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Horn (instrument)

It’s no secret that the mother of all horn blogs is Horn Matters by John Ericson and Bruce Hembd. It’s really a spectacular achievement that should be a regular destination of any serious horn player. But you should not live by horn alone any more than you should eat steak and potatoes every meal. Variety is a good thing to help give you a rich educational compost rather than a monoculture. There are a lot of other arts blogs worth visiting to this end. The central gathering point for a slew of such blogs is

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Music Quotes of the Day: The Arts and National Survival

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Without the arts — including music — we risk graduating young people who are “right-brain damaged.”

– Paul Harvey

The arts, inspiring — indeed requiring — self-discipline, may be more “basic” to our national survival than traditional credit courses. Presently we are spending 29 times more on science than on the arts and the result so far is worldwide intellectual embarrassment.

-Paul Harvey

Horn Dissertation of the Day: R. Strauss’s Horn Concertos

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English: Photo of Richard Strauss, dated 20.10...

English: Photo of Richard Strauss, dated 20.10.1886 (Oct 20 1886) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are a number (growing all the time) of dissertations on horn-related subjects that are available gratis online. We will post links to these one at a time now and then. If you  know of such dissertations that you think we have missed (or might miss), please send us the link(s) and we’ll post them here. Thanks, and thanks to the authors who have made their work available online for all of us to benefit from.

Today’s link:

“Richard Strauss: The Two Concertos for Horn and Orchestra” by Gary Greene. Butler University, 1978, 60 p.

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Rules of Thumb for the Horn Player

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Key signature in C-sharp-major and a-sharp-minor

It’s better to be sharp than out of tune.

You always have time for the things that are important to you.

Never speak ill of another player; such talk always boomerangs eventually.

For unreasonable conductor requests (e.g. continual demands to play softer), after you reach your limit play exactly the same thing and keep asking “How was it this time?”

Transposition “mental key signature” rule of thumb: – if it’s a sharp key, add a sharp; if it’s a flat key, add a flat. E.g. Horn in G: one sharp for G major, add a sharp = 2 sharps, or D major; Horn in Eb: three flats for Eb, subtract a flat = 2 flats = Bb major).

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A Few Thoughts and More Questions about Quick WarmUps

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"Symphonia Plato": Plato, Aristotle,...

I don’t have a single answer for this next question; I do have a bunch of possible answers and even more follow-up questions. Read the question. Think about it. Then send in your comment and we’ll compare thoughts on the subject.

What is the best thing to play in those situations where you have only a very short time to warm-up, e.g. before you go on stage for a performance (recital, band, orchestra, chamber music) or for an audition, etc.? You only have, oh, 15 seconds. Or 30 seconds. A minute, max.

Ideas that you might address in your answer(s):

What do you usually play in those circumstances?

What is the optimum thing to play?

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