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An Example Intermediate Horn Home Practice Session

Module by: Catherine Schmidt-Jones. E-mail the author

Summary: Individual practice sessions for an intermediate-level French horn player should include warm-ups, strength-building exercises, sight-reading, and technical practice.

Introduction

For parents and young players: this is an example of what a home practice session might look like for a young French horn student who has been playing for two or three years. At this level of playing, a student cannot make quick progress without lessons or individual coaching of some sort. For more general suggestions on practicing music at home, please see A Guide to Great Home Music Practice.

Warm-Ups

Good practice sessions start with warm-ups. Warm-ups not only get the player physically and mentally ready to play well, they are also the best time to practice important basics - like breath support, tone quality, and accurate attacks - that are sometimes forgotten while practicing challenging music.

The first one or two warm-ups should be very easy to play: long notes are a good choice. Wind players should always use their first warm-ups to check their breath support and sound quality.

Figure 1: The first, very easy, warm-up should establish good breath support and tone quality.
Figure 1 (longtones.png)

Once a good sound is established, the rest of the warm-ups should give the player a chance to work on basic skills. The best way to do this is with exercises that are as easy as possible except for the skill that needs work. Let's imagine our hypothetical horn student needs to learn to double-tongue in order to play some fast passages in an upcoming school performance. She also needs to practice minor scales (she knows all of her major scales already) for an upcoming audition for a regional band. And for the same audition, she must play an etude that requires making large slurs smoothly . Other players with other immediate skills goals would play different warm-ups.

Figure 2: Other good warm-ups (these are only some examples) are as easy as possible except for the basic skill that needs improvement. Once basic skills, like tonguing, slurs, and accurate attacks, start showing up in warm-ups, they will automatically begin to improve in more challenging music, also. Scales improve sight-reading and fingering skills.
Figure 2 (hornwarmups.png)

Practice

After warming up, the student practices the music for upcoming performances, auditions, and lessons. In order to practice most efficiently, the student should:

  • identify the hardest spots in the music
  • practice those spots repeatedly, as slowly as necessary to play them correctly
  • once the spot is being played correctly slowly, play it faster - as fast as possible without missing notes or rhythms
  • once a spot is being played well at tempo, practice playing it as part of a larger section of the music

For an intermediate-level brass player, most practice sessions should also include sight-reading, as this is an extremely useful skill to bring to rehearsals. Sight-reading materials can come from any source; a wide variety is good. They should be easy enough that the student will be able to play much of the music correctly the first time, but should include things that the student needs to be able to do. For example, if the student needs to learn to read bass clef, read rhythms more accurately, or find pitches over large intervals more accurately, this should be reflected in the sight-reading. While sight-reading, the student should:

  • Play straight through the music without stopping, slowing, or repeating beats
  • Play as much as possible correctly the first time, including articulations, dynamics, and musical phrasing, as well as pitches and rhythms.
  • Take a short time to check "problem spots" after the sight-reading.

Winding Up

Practicing the hard stuff can make you tired, frustrated, and tense. Don't end a practice session in that state! Wind up by playing something easy and fun. This is also another chance to check to make sure breathing and tone are still good. Depending on time, what the student enjoys, and how tired the lips are, some good cool-downs are:

  • (for very tired lips) long, low notes
  • (for tense players) downward slurs in the middle and lower register
  • A solo, etude, or "fun" passage from last year's music
  • A favorite pop or jazz melody

Unlike during the practice session, the student should usually play cool-down pieces straight through. The emphasis should be on memorizing and touching up easy music, so that it is enjoyable and can be used as a repertoire for short-notice auditions and casual performances.

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