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Hearing what my mistakes are telling me

Steve Eddins
Posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2023

At the dress rehearsal for my Concord Orchestra concert a couple of weeks ago, our guest conductor gave us a list of themes that he wanted to demonstrate to the audience before the concert began. One theme was 8 after H through measure 289 in the second movement. I was playing Horn 2 in D:

Brahms, Symphony No. 2, mvmt 2 (Horn 2 in D)

Brahms, Symphony No. 2, mvmt 2 (Horn 2 in D)

We played the theme through twice. To my chagrin, I missed the second notes of the octave intervals (written E5 to E4, and then E5 to E4) both times. Later, I realized that I had missed these notes in earlier rehearsals, too. I suppose I didn’t worry about the misses because I just didn’t think of these measures as being that difficult, and I assumed that I would get the notes the next time through.

The dress rehearsal, though, startled me out of my complacency. When I had a chance later, I looked at these measures on the page and tried to remember what it felt like to play them. I began to suspect that I wasn’t hearing the octave intervals clearly in my mind, probably because I was focused more on getting to the low G. I picked up my horn and gave it a try, and I realized that I was only hearing the low G in my mind. I was just stabbing at the in-between note.

I made myself stop and sing the intervals, first out loud, and then mentally. Then, I played and held the top note, imagined the octave leap down clearly in my mind, and then played the octave followed by the low G. After doing that a couple of times, I felt much more confident about this theme, and I played it better in the concerts.

Worthwhile lesson: when you miss a note multiple times, stop and ask yourself what your mistake is trying to tell you.