Heidi Wick – Applying Natural Horn Technique to Modern Valved Horn Performance Practice, DMA Ohio State University, 2001, 88 p.
Funny thing about horn players. As students we get introduced to a warm-up/workout routine in high school or college and we learn it (a good thing) and then proceed to repeat it for the next umpteen years. Routines have one big positive: you know how it goes, they cover a bunch of stuff – all good stuff – and you can zip through them and feel good about yourself. You’ve done your duty, taken your daily vitamins, and now you can go practice. What could be wrong with that?
Nothing – it’s all good. Except that one little thing…
Below are further transcriptions from that notebook from long ago. Keep in mind that each paragraph may not necessarily have anything to do with the one before it, that it may have been added days or weeks or months after the last entry.
Dealing with the unenlightened…. There are those, who, because of their own insecurity about themselves and their playing, will attempt to undermine your confidence about yourself and your playing. The easiest to deal with are those who are blunt about it; but most often, these people like to couch cutting remarks in words of pseudo-praise. The defense is to be unconcerned with anything they say – once you let your spirits be at the mercy of praise and criticism, you are completely in these people’s power. They aim to manipulate your feelings and it is your choice to let them or not. e.g.: auditions.
Think of high notes not as being ‘hard’ but only as having different requirements – air, muscle tension, attack, mouthpiece pressure, etc. If you attach the judgment of ‘hard’ to it, then this sends a signal of ‘Danger -flight or fight!” to the body, dumps adrenalin, muscles tighten, fighting each other, breathing hindered, Panic, can’t think straight, clam city!
Braces! I never had them as a kid (so my lower teeth look like a derailed freight train from the air) and can only empathize what it must be like to have to try to play horn. Pressing that hunk of metal against your lips with that razor wire decorating your front teeth slicing your lip from the other side. Ow. Ow. Ow!
My 7th grader, N, just got braces and is in that situation. I told him that there are products (like Braceguard) that provide something of a cushion on the brace metal for brass players. He says it doesn’t hurt and doesn’t think he needs it. But it’s clear that his range has clearly suffered. Playing a third space C might as well be a high C. He loves to play the horn, but is very much limited. What to do? How do you keep a young player busy until the braces come off in a year and a half? Continue reading
Christmas time is the only holiday that brings with it its own soundtrack: all those songs from the Renaissance tunes like What Child Is This to the pop/kitschy songs like Rudolph… Other holidays can have evocative music (romantic for Valentine’s Day, patriotic for 4th of July, scary for Halloween, and so on), but only Christmas has its own library of songs. The bad news is that it’s pretty much the same tunes every year and they get played to death in any/every public venue. The good news is that they are almost all really good tunes and that, even after endless overexposure, they are still fun to play or sing and nice to listen to.
We classical musician types are, however, missing out on one terrific experience that these songs could provide if only we would do it: playing them from the ear and the heart rather than from the printed page. The tunes have been ground into our chromosomes since our earliest goo-goo gah gah time – it’s pretty impossible to live in this culture and not know them extremely well. So they are prime material for figuring them out on our instruments by ear. So here’s a pre-New Year’s resolution: every day figure out a new carol of your choice on your instrument. Start with your most familiar key (usually C, for major). Figure out what scale step the first note is. And begin! You may miss a note here and there, but you can fix that on subsequent times through.
In an earlier post, I suggested that any student could impress his/her teacher by simply doing something (anything!) that was not assigned or required. Even just ask a good question! It’s mildly depressing that this is true – because almost no one does it. It’s really easy to stand out from the crowd by doing the simplest thing that no one has told you to do, thereby demonstrating the energy, inquisitiveness, and general moxie that the system has long since squeezed out of everyone. Yes, yes, I know, everyone has too much to do, barely enough time to do what’s assigned, let alone extra stuff. But the bar is really low here – all you have to do at minimum is do one thing not assigned all semester. Too much? Get your email twice a day (instead of 12 times an hour), cut down on web surfing, viral funny cat videos, and various incarnations of twitterface and anyone should have enough time to get started. The problem is not so much as a lack of time as it is a dearth of curiosity about stuff and capacity to entertain “failure” as the natural byproduct of exploration and trying out stuff to see what happens.
A lot has come to light in the past decade since I began looking beyond tradition and started thinking. Thinking about different ways to learn the instrument, more efficient ways, ways that are more now and less then. At some point we have to move beyond the 19th century… I have done my best to steal from many other fields (i.e. climbing over the apparently high, barbed-wire rimmed walls of the box for a new go at thinking) to bring back stuff that works for others and try it on the horn. There is a rich realm of possibilities lying glistening and unattended for the determined idea thief. First, from other brasses. What do trumpets do that we don’t that we might try? Low brass? Over more walls: what about woodwinds? String players? Percussionists? Guitarists? Jazzers? Conga players? Keep scaling, out of music altogether: Business? Psychology? Sports? Education in general? Creativity studies? Designers? Astrophysics?
Just about all musicians can tap 120 beats per minute – they just have to sing Stars and Stripes Forever and tap the beat. Sixty BPM is also easy – just half of that. But what about all the other tempos? To that end, I have constructed the Song-0-Nome: a list of familiar tunes and songs arranged in order of BPM slow to fast. The tempi are approximate and personal; I sing them a bit faster or slower on different days or if I’ve had caffeine. So feel free to adjust the list to suit you or substitute your own favorite tunes that seem to fit certain tempos better to you. For BPM numbers that are not on the chart, you can extrapolate by tapping either whole measures, part of measures, or every beat; e.g. a waltz could be tapped on each quarter note or each measure; a march could be tapped on each quarter note or each half note. NB: This list can also serve you at the gym to check to see if your heart rate is in the range it should be. For instance, for me, I know I should be between “Yankee Doodle” and “Beer Barrel Polka.” If it gets up to “Casey Jones,” or “When I’m Sixty-Four,” I know I need to slow down…
49 My Bonnie (1 beat per measure)
58 O Holy Night; We Three Kings
60 ½ of Stars and Stripes; Kum Bah Yah, Abide With Me
The most effective, useful, practical, efficient choice to get something done may be the most obvious one, but it is seldom the easiest one.
Nagging technical problem? Just can’t get control of that trill or that upper register quick lick? Sputtering note in the low register? The music asks for a fluttertongue that you don’t have? Wide slur that attracts grit in the middle? The easiest path is to struggle with the problem, once, twice, and go on to something that is a lot easier.
In other words: denial. It’s quick, cheap, easy, and it ensures that the problem will be there just as before, waiting for you when you return.
The alternative is to gird your loins (whatever that means) and confront the problem. Think it through. Discover (possibly through trial and error) a way to solve it, starting with something that you can do and gradually transforming that in the direction of the problem until you reach the promised land.
It ain’t easy. You and your ego have to stare at this testimony to ignorance and inability (yours) and do battle with it until it succumbs. That’s one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is to think, “Oh, boy! An opportunity to learn! A chance to improve!”
It may take days, months, years. It takes guts and gumption and motivation at the chromosomal level. And the hardest part is simply starting.
How do you start? It might help to remember the saying, “If the hardest thing you have to do today is eat a frog, then just eat the frog and get it over with and get on with life.”
Eat the frog. Face the problem and repeat the saying. And get going.
The idea of this is also nicely encapsulated in the Zen koan “The obstacle is the path.”