A couple of weeks ago, I had the great fortune to meet with Runar Tajford of the Brazz Brothers, in NYC. We had a great time! I was able to comp Runar to a concert with Quinsin Nachoff‘s group, (which actually is very close to the Brazz Brothers in orchestration – Brass Quintet/Tenor/Drums) and he attended a recording session with Andy Jaffe‘s “Arc” band. I learned quite a bit about life in Norway and the activities of the Brothers – of particular interest to me, is their recording “Sketches of Africa”, with the Odense (Denmark) Symphony Orchestra. To create this music, Runar transcribed music brought to Norway by refugees, and arranged it for the Brothers and the Orchestra. Check it out!
As I progress with formatting this new volume, some decisions will need to be made. Should there even be a hard copy version, or should it only be available as a .pdf? Since there will be several audio and video examples, should there be an accompanying DVD, or only links to online files? I tend to lean towards everything just being online, since it seems that streaming is the way of the future…. also, suppose I want to update it from time to time? If it’s online, I wouldn’t need to re-print it! On the other hand, libraries and Horn studios might like to have a hard copy, and folks do like to put something up on the music stand from time to time….would love to hear YOUR ideas and thoughts….
For a few years now, I’ve been putting together some new exercises, new ideas, and new approaches to practicing the exercises. I’d also like to have a chance to explain in more detail how to practice them. The book isn’t formatted yet, so here’s your opportunity to have some input regarding what goes into the book and how it’s presented!
Just as a small bonus, here’s an example of something I’ve been using and will probably include in the book: I got this from awesome bari saxophonist Ken Hitchcock.
I’ve been practicing this over two octaves, (starting way down, 2 octaves below what’s written here, transposing up by half-steps) but you don’t have to! You could practice only what’s written here! There’s no “should” or “must” about this kind of practice. That said, I recommend at least transposing it into one or two other keys; say “Horn in G” or “Horn in C”. My usual approach is to transpose it up a half-step, then another half-step and so on. I do highly recommend using a metronome, just so you can keep track of your improvement. It’s a really good idea to occasionally practice it very slowly.
Something that’s important to understand, when you’re deciding how to practice is this: no one can play exercises like this as fast in the extreme low register, as they can in the mid-to-high register! It’s also important to realize that when improvising a jazz solo, you probably won’t be using pedal notes all that much except maybe at the beginning or end of a phrase. So, you may decide for instance, to only practice the exercise in the range you’d be likely to use when improvising, i.e. maybe only a range of an octave and a half. My personal preference is to cover as much of my range as possible, “just because”….it gives me more of a feeling that I’m in control of my Horn….
Here’s a video of the exercise number 4.1 from “Exercises for Jazz French Horn”
I have a plan to make some more and better quality videos showing other exercises and playing actual musical phrases. I won’t go into teaching how to do it, because there is plenty of information available on the internet to help you with that.
A good thing to understand is that whenever you take that breath through your nose and puff air out with your cheeks, it affects the sound you’re producing, whether it be intonation or actual sound quality. It’s very, very difficult to take a circular breath without any noticeable change in sound, but we try to minimize it. So that’s the disadvantage. The advantage is, if you’re improvising a long phrase and run out of air, you don’t have to stop! You make these instantaneous decisions on whether it’s more important to maintain your sound quality, or finish your idea.
Here are 4 blogs I highly recommend. Do you know of some others I’ve missed? I’d love to know about them! Enjoy!
Abe Mamet’s blog documenting his research into Julius Watkins and more; this includes links to some fantastic videos and other information:
John Ericson’s very popular blog covering many different topics:
Jeff Agrell’s great blog, also covering various topics; of interest especially to classically oriented players wanting to improvise:
Tina Barkan’s blog for those returning to playing after a long absence:
A major concern of all Horn (French Horn) players who are operating in the non-classical realm is how to be heard when there is a loud rhythm section, or even a loud group of brass, woodwinds or whatever! The bell pointing ‘backwards’ and the hand in the bell are hindrances, but they’re part of our instrument, so what to do? For me, keeping the bell elevated off the leg and hand position are important, but that’s not enough in some circumstances. When I need to amplify myself, I use the AMT wireless. http://www.appliedmicrophone.com/. If there’s no sound system, and I need to provide my own amplification, I bring my lunchbox amp. https://www.ztamplifiers.com/products.html It’s not super-powerful but if you locate it behind you, you can hear yourself!
First, the “Why”, because that’s the point I really want to make. In a word: CLARITY.
It seems to me there are many ways of explaining this. An example is perhaps best: Play a bebop tune as fast as you can, on the double horn. Then play the exact same thing on the F alto horn (descant or triple). Which do you think sounds clearer / more intelligible / listenable?
Another reason which is applicable to those who played trumpet before they played horn: It feels familiar. You relate to the instrument in a similar way: range / register / fingerings; although in a different key.
There is some great information from John Ericson here: http://hornmatters.com/2012/10/playing-descant-and-triple-horns-a-new-e-book/
I’ve recently recorded an e-lesson for https://vimeo.com/hipbonemusic/vod which should be available around September or so.
As a player, when sight-reading new music, I really prefer not to see too much information. Sure, you need the essentials – time and key signatures, tempo and the notes. But I’ve played many pieces of music that have so much detailed information that it distracts me from listening to the other instruments. Listening is so very important, and I’m afraid many of us including myself, don’t pay enough attention to it.
Of course, a lot depends on what the composer intends. If the composer has a very clear, specific goal for how a piece should be played, then perhaps there should be as much information as possible? But if the composer is willing to allow for personal and group interpretation, the musicians will be more able to find their own voice in a piece, if there aren’t too many markings and instructions.
Another thing to be considered is: what do the musicians prefer? I’ve already said that I really like openness, not too much instruction and allowing for more interpretation. But I realize that some ensembles and individuals prefer to see a lot of information, and if they don’t see it, they’ll be wanting to ask the composer “How do you want me to play this?”
So, I sincerely welcome any feedback regarding my own compositions and arrangements – I’ve even considered making two versions of each arrangement; one with very little information, and another with a maximum directions! That’s it for today, looking forward to your comments!