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Horn Handbook


Some Housekeeping Tips

-It should go without saying, but arrive at your lessons, rehearsals, and performances prepared, warmed-up, as rested, nourished as possible and on time! Doing so displays respect for your teacher, your colleagues, and yourself.

- Be mindful of fatigue, both mental and physical. While it is important to improve technique and endurance, it is a fine line between pushing yourself to a new level and incurring injury. Incrementally increase practice time and repetition of musical passages.Make sure to play a few minutes of long, low pedal tones when you are finished!

-Drink plenty of water, at least 8 full glasses a day. Along with all kinds of health benefits, this will help repair your chops more quickly amidst a full day of playing.

-Sign up for and practice Alexander Technique to aid better alignment, support and breath efficiency. Exercise 3-4 times a week to maximize air support and control. Swimming,running and cycling are particularly helpful.


-Look into taking a yoga class for more breathing practice and clearing the mind. Yoga and Meditation can be very helpful with performance nerves.

-Eat healthfully as possible and try to get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep each night and more before a performance or audition. You can’t play your best if you are deprived! Always keep a granola or protein bar in your horn case in case of emergency!

-Be supportive and encouraging of your colleagues. We are all in this together and who better understands all that we do and go through than a fellow horn player?

-If there is a passage that could be better within the section or with another colleague, be mindful and considerate of how and when you approach them i.e. Are they in a bad mood? In a hurry to leave? Are they busy with someone else? These are generally not good times to say anything. A suggested approach is: “Hi [so and so]. Would you mind if we go over this passage? I feel like I’m not quite with you (or I’m not lining up with you, i.e. pitch).” Always finish by thanking the person or section for taking the time to work on it.


-Be respectful to conductors.Honor requests from the podium even if you disagree with them and don't let such requests lessen your own ability. Be polite even if the conductor is incorrect.

-If there is a passage in a rehearsal or concert that you are 99.9 percent sure won’t go well due to injury, sickness, last minute personnel changes etc.., give the the conductor heads up before fact and not after. In other words, make your excuse ahead of time and your life will be much easier! This is only a last resort option.

-Be respectful, friendly and helpful, if need be, to everyone at an audition. Healthy competition is good and play to win but gloating, arrogance and head games are not cool.Don’t be “that guy/girl” at an audition.

- The first horn player is responsible for the pitch, rhythm and overall quality of the section.Respect whom ever is on lead and you will get the same respect when it is your turn.Mutual respect is key to a great horn section.


Some General Playing Tips

-Acoustic Challenges: Always remember the horn is weird! The bell faces backwards, towards the ground and you put your hand in it. The sound you hear is not the sound the conductor & audience hear particularly with articulation and time. Adjust as needed depending on the acoustics of the room and always be aware that our tendency is to be late even though we really feel we are in time.

-Correct Style: We often hear "play musically" but remember Mozart, Mahler, Brahms, and Britten are all different. Sell your musical ideas with confidence and tell the story of the work in the correct style.

-Breath in Time and in Character: This is very helpful in auditions. Your breath should be planned and in time. When you breath the music has already started and the first few notes will have a better chance sounding in control.Subdividing beats is really helpful with time and accuracy.

-Practicing: Practicing non-stop is really helpful with audition preparation. Play your concerto and excerpts through without stopping no matter what happens. Don't let the audition be the first time you do this. Also, play mock auditions for anyone who will listen!

-Standing: Playing while standing can help in many ways with breathing, tension, strength, phrasing, angle of lead pipe,posture,and endurance. Standing is also great for concerto and recital performance preparation.

-Buzzing: Sometimes the easiest way to solve a problem is to buzz a passage with or without mouthpiece (free buzz) Then play it normal, slower, faster, octave down, different key, louder, softer, or various rhythmic patterns. Problems can fix themselves this way.

-Focus: Be mindful when you practice. If you are repeating a passage over and over and not improving, take a break and practice something else for a while. Practice a passage slowly with great attention to one musical or technical facet of playing such as just focusing on air spin, tongue placement, or sculpting a phrase. The eventual goal is being able to learn how to "teach yourself".

-Learn the Entire Work: When practicing excerpts, study and listen to the entire work. It puts everything into the right perspective so you really know what you are doing. A good way to practice orchestral repertoire is to play along with a recording beginning to end, including rests. This is really great for endurance and it gives you the right feel of the work in performance.

-Pace Yourself: Always be aware of what you have to play the next month,week, day, even next few minutes, and plan accordingly.You must have strength and a good sound when you really need it. Play loud and high only when you are well warmed up and warm up with care.If the low range is your friend the high range is not to be feared! HAHA I just made that up.

-Use a Metronome, Tuner, Video, and Piano: These are the basic tools to keep everything in check. Play along with a tonic drone and play slow slurred arpeggios against the same chord on the piano. This is all great for ear training.Record yourself often.

-Balance Playing: Always balance high with low, loud with soft, fast with slow, short with long, and solo with section.Ensemble work, sectionals and chamber music are essential creative outlets that improve overall musicianship well into your career.

-Air Stream: Play with a warm, steady, and even air stream in all dynamics. Remember to relax and blow through the horn, not at the horn.

-Bad habits: Anyone can fall into bad habits.Be aware of shake, quiver, Wa-Wa, forced sound, unclear or overly heavy articulation, covered hand position, and huffing slurs just to name a few.

-Concept: Listen to many great players of all styles and develop a clear concept of how ”you” want to sound. Control and command your playing with your unique voice and musical language.

-Slurs: Make sure slurs are connected, smooth and supported and not abruptly stepped up or dropped down. What happens between the notes is the key.

-Simplify: Break down fast or technical passages into quarter, half, and whole notes to see where the phrase and line are really going. Then compose a beautiful line with the simplified version and find the true direction and intention of the passage.

-Check progress and condition: It is very helpful to have a few challenging works that you repeat often to get a quick snapshot of your overall condition . Everyone has their own “special” notes in an except , etude or solo work that can serve as a gauge to where your playing is at the moment.

-Attitude: And finally,a positive attitude and good work ethic will do more to improve your playing than countless hours in the practice room. Horn playing should never be a boring chore or feel like drudgery. Know when to take a break and put it in the case.

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