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Learning to be more musical

Steve Eddins
Posted on Saturday, July 1, 2023

Musical expressiveness is another improvement area that’s been on my mind. It has come up a few times in my lessons recently (Hi, Hazel). It’s an area where I would like to be able to observe and coach myself better, and so it was on my list of things to ask horn camp faculty members about earlier this month. Over the course of the week, I talked with Patrick Hughes, Paul Basler, Randy Gardner, and Natalie Grana about it.

Pat said that he experiments with different possible “shapes” for musical phrases. Paul, Randy, and Natalie all talked about approaches based on singing, such as listening to vocalists and playing Lieder. Randy and Natalie suggested vocal training, and Natalie is even trying to talk me into joining a choir. (See Natalie’s book, A Singing Approach to Horn Playing: Pitch, Rhythm, and Harmony Training for Horn. Recommended!)

Lieder for horn and piano

Natalie recommended a collection of Schubert Lieder, arranged for horn and piano (vol 1, vol 2). Randy recommended horn-and-piano arrangements of Brahms and Mahler Lieder, available from CEC Music. I ordered all of these.

Lots of Lieder

Lots of Lieder

I listened to recordings of the Schubert Lieder by Renée Fleming (a vocalist recommended by Paul), and I picked out two to start with: Gretchen am Spinnrade and Auf dem Wasser zu singen.

Schubert, “Gretchen am Spinnrade,” arranged for horn and piano

Schubert, “Gretchen am Spinnrade,” arranged for horn and piano

Practice plan

My tentative plan is to start by listening to the vocal recordings by Renée Fleming and to the horn recordings by Richard King. I’d like to understand and compare what they are doing with dynamics, tone color, and time. I’m also interested in how the lyrics influence the vocalist’s phrasing. Then, I’ll sing and buzz and record myself trying to mimic on horn the expressive musical gestures that I have heard.


I think the important related horn technique elements include dynamic range, tone color, and sense of rhythm. I haven’t worked exactly how I want to work on these, except that I’ve started using a decibel meter (as advocated by Randy) to challenge myself to expand my soft-to-loud range on different pitches.

Making up lyrics

Finally, I wanted to mention that both Hazel and Natalie recommended making up song lyrics to go with excerpts and solos that I’m working on. I’ve been experimenting with this, and I have found it to be helpful. I plan to write more about this idea.