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Focused, concrete improvement goals

Steve Eddins
Posted on Wednesday, June 21, 2023

I came away from horn camp last week with several improvement goals in mind. For example, I want to improve my tone clarity in the middle register, from roughly G4 down to G3 (horn in F). I talked about this with several KBHC faculty members, including Pat Hughes, Lin Baird, and Jesse McCormick.

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I also listened to two presentations that have influenced my thinking about how to approach improvement goals in general. The first presentation was given by Randy Gardner, perhaps the king of methodical, systematic approaches. (See “Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan.”) The second was Jesse’s “Auditions 101” presentation, in particular the systematic approach he recommended for using self recordings for audition prep.

These presentations prompted me to consider how I might be able to make my improvement goals more focused and concrete. To that end, I’ve been playing around with four questions to consider for an improvement goal:

Here are my thoughts and early post-camp efforts so far about my tone clarity goal.

What technical fundamentals are involved?

As Bill Purvis (and other faculty members) said, “air” is a pretty good #1 guess for any horn issue.

Based on my end-of-week conversation with Jesse McCormick, I would list aperture size next.

Then there are several other things to observe as I play, including:

How will I work specifically on the goal?

Jesse suggested some specific things to observe regarding aperture size, embouchure mouthpiece engagement, vowel formation, jaw position, and inside-the-mouthpiece lip tension. I’ve been doing these for a couple of minutes, early in my warmup, to keep the feelings fresh in my memory.

Pat Hughes suggested that I experiment on the B horn in this range and then try to match that clarity on the F horn. Paul Basler has some etudes that are good for this, such as “Smooth Surface.”

And I’m doing long tones, with active experimentation to see what different tone colors and dynamics I can achieve.

How will I recognize or assess progress?

Bill Purvis says he prefers patterns that start in the middle of the range and then move outward from there, alternating high and low. For example, his warmup recommendations include this long-tone sequence:

An alternating note sequence for long tones

An alternating note sequence for long tones

I have found that this note sequence makes the unclear mid-register more obvious to me because of the side-by-side contrast between the mid-register notes and the notes in the upper treble clef.

So, I think that I’ll be able to recognize progress by continuing to do this alternating sequence of long tones.

What are some solos, excerpts, or etudes that will highlight the particular issue?

Lin Baird suggested the Rochut etudes. These trombone transcriptions of the Bordogni vocalises are often used by horn players for working the middle and low registers.

Looking forward

It’s only been a few days since I got home from camp and started digging into this seriously, but I’m pleased with the early progress, and I’m optimistic about achieving real improvement.