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A French Omnitonic horn.

I was going to do Tech Project #1 today, but I was not able to figure out how to insert a jpg file of music manuscript (I wanted a line of manuscript, but when I tried, the insert was always of the whole page with a tiny line of manuscript). So while I figure that out, it’s probably a good idea to make you familiar with the terms and procedures I like to use in describing the tech projects. I will repeat them later, but here is a first brief exposure.

HORN – I don’t mean that thing in your lap, exactly. The definition of a horn that is useful in our tech study is: A horn is a length of tubing. Thus, the concatenation of metal in your lap is not one, not two, but fourteen horns. Each fingering combination gives you instant access to a different length of tubing. The lowest horn is a B Basso horn (F:123). The highest horn on the F side is the F horn, naturally. The lowest horn using the trigger is the E horn (T123), but we never use that fingering or the next one up, the F horn fingered T13. T23 gives us the Gb horn, a half step above our open F horn. The highest horn is the Bb alto horn: T:0.

OVERTONE SERIES (OTS) – Each length of tubing (i.e. each horn or different fingering) can produce a fundamental tone and a series of overtones. The lowest tones of the lowest horns are pretty impossible to get, and overtones above 12 are pretty tough to get on the highest horns. In general, the useable overtones are from 2 to 16. Note numbers double at the octave, e.g. low C is 2, middle C is 4, 3rd space C is 8, high C is 16. You should memorize the OTS – notes and corresponding numbers – so that if I call out some numbers, you know exactly what notes I am referring to. For some reason, nearly all horn method books choose to omit the OTS, which is baffling to me because it is so useful in understanding how the horn works and in constructing exercises. Probably the biggest reason they didn’t or don’t is that horn players are used to just playing what’s on the page without necessarily understanding what it is or how it got there. I think it’s very useful to play with understanding; this may become a lot clearer as we get into the projects.

FINGERING SERIES – the ‘other’ way to describe a tour through all horns. It starts in the middle with F horn and descends by half step to C horn (I don’t usually use B horn [F:123] because the fingering is stuffy and out of tune), then recommences in the middle again on Gb horn (Bb:23) and ascends to Bb alto horn (Bb:0). Sometimes there is reason to start on the either the highest or the lowest horn. Thus: regular fingering series: Descending (F side, Horns F, E, Eb, D, Db, C): 0, 2, 1, 12, 23, 13 [123] . Then: Ascending (Bb side: horn Gb, G, Ab A, Bb alto): T23, T12, T1, T2, T0

ADJACENT AND NONADJACENT OVERTONES – The most basic unit of horn technique is moving back and forth between two overtones that are next to each other. A good way to warm up is to do 5 to 6, which is E4 to G4 (C4 = middle C), slow to fast – for instance. The standard lip trill is usually from 8 to 9 (on any/all horns).  After doing some adjacent OTS movement, the next challenge is to be able to move cleanly over one or more notes, especially slurring, e.g. 6 to 8 (G4 to C5).

SHAPES – Most OTS (and other) exercises can be generally described in terms of a shape: Up. Down. Up and Down. Up Down UP Down. Example: OTS 4 5 6 5 could be repeated as OTS 3 4 5 4. Same shape, still using adjecent overtones, but lower.

SCALE DEGREES – For valvesless playing (so handy for warm-ups and exercises), we need to be familiar with the numbers of the overtone series. For valve work, we need to know another set of numbers: scale degrees, i.e. the numbers of the diatonic scale: C D E F G A B (C) = 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 (8). With the use of inflections (flats or sharps), this system makes it quick and easy to describe any scale. Examples:

Natural minor: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

Harmonic minor: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7

Same with arpeggios:

Major: 1 3 5

Minor: 1 b3 5

Dominant 7: 1 3 5 b7

It’s also very handy to describe patterns (diatonically sequential repetitions of melodic fragments, e.g. 1231). More on this later.

KEY ORDER – We try to play exercises in all keys whenever possible. There theoretically a very large number of possible orders of keys; our default order is the Circle of 5ths (descending; each is the dominant of the following key), a.k.a. the Cycle:

C F Bb Eb Ab Db F# B E A D G

Memorize this as soon as you can.

The other order is chromatically, C Db, D, etc., either ascending or descending.

CORE SCALES – a subset of the entire diatonic scale: 1 2 3 – only three notes. We will learn 4 versions of this: Major: 1 2 3, Minor: 1 2 b3, Phrygian: 1 b2 b3, and Klezmer 1 b2 3.

POWER SCALES – a subset of the entire diatonic scale – five notes: 1 2 3 4 5. We will learn 4 versions (maybe a couple more later) of the Power Scale: Major: 1 2 3 4 5. Minor: 1 2 b3 4 5; Phrygian: 1 b2 b3 4 5; and Klezmer: 1 b2 3 4 5.

SPEEDS – TWO TYPES. We common work on any technical exercise in one of several ways concerning tempo.

1. ACCELERANDO: Slow to fast. Start at a slow and deliberate speed where you can be perfectly accurate. Gradually speed it up until you reach the limit where you start making mistakes or struggling.

2. CONSTANT TEMPO. When first learning something challenging, chances are that you should just stick to one slow tempo to be able to give every detail of it deep attention. When you acquire more skill, you may either do the ACCELERANDO approach above or repeat using several constant (steady) tempos, each one faster than the last. Examples:

2 speeds: Slow. Fast.

3 speeds: Slow. Moderate. Fast.

4 speeds: Slow. Moderate. Faster. Really Fast.


PS: One thing that occurred to me after I announced this series: the material for it comes from a book in progress: A Systematic Approach to Horn Technique. I’m not sure whether including the material here will help or hurt future sales, but I’m guessing (and hoping) that when all is said and done you may rather the whole story in one neat volume rather than all these separate parts in no particular order, condensed, and somewhat rewritten for the blog.