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Posted by on Oct 31, 2017 in Articles | 0 comments

TPYO Fall Retreat 2017

TPYO Fall Retreat 2017


October 2017

Today marked my annual coaching session with the horn section of the Tucson Philharmonia Youth Orchestra at their Fall Retreat. The students have been working hard and they are sounding great!

We covered a range of topics on technique:

Harmonic Series Lip Slurs

Playing lip slurs throughout the harmonic series is excellent both for warm up and to develop flexibility. Any practice should start with lip slurs in a comfortable register (and simple patterns) and build out to larger intervals, increasing to higher and lower range. Anything you come up with can be useful, so get creative and invent your own noodles moving through the harmonics of the horn. If you are looking for ideas, a great book to reference is Bai Lin’s Lip Flexibilities for All Brass Instruments. The book was originally written for the trumpet, but is transfers wonderfully to the horn. You can play the exercises two ways – one octave lower (identical note pattern) or in the written octave (with extra horn notes sounding in between the printed notes).


I gave my annual you need more articulation mini-lecture (it goes like this…you need MORE ARTICULATION, people!!!) This happens with most student groups. But where does all this mushy articulation come from? A couple of theories:

  • The players are still working to develop the confidence they need to really get after the music.
  • Players are often not aware of just how clear we must be with articulations to sound good in a hall (or at any sort of moderate distance).
  • When you add players, clarity is diminished. So you have to compensate by adding more clarity!

The antidote to mushy notes is simple – consciously employ great tonguing on every note (TA, not DA in most cases) and keep connecting with the air. You can practice this away from the horn by working on the airstream with articulation. Blow all the way through the phrase!

Stopped Horn

Always a tricky topic, we worked on stopped horn both for technical basics and for group intonation. When you fully close your hand in the bell, it shortens the length of tubing, so that makes the note 1/2 step higher. We compensate for that by playing the note 1/2 step lower on the F horn. Make sure to get a great seal all the way around your right hand. Push the heel of your hand and the pad of your thumb into the bell, while pulling the knuckles where your fingers meet your hand away from the bell.

One great way to check your stopped horn pitch (and sound quality) is to work in half steps. I think this is easier for the ear to hear than toggling between unison notes. How it works:

  • Play an open note 1/2 step lower than your written stopped note
  • Close your hand in the bell to raise the pitch 1/2 step to the written pitch
  • Go back and forth between these two notes, using your ear until intonation of the stopped note is accurate. You can double check by subbing in an open note on the written pitch here and there to make sure you have the accurate pitch in your ear.

If you are having trouble getting a good seal (and therefore adequate intonation), you can try echo horn instead. To play echo horn, close your hand down into the bell, but not completely, so it actually lengthens the instrument, dropping the pitch of the note 1/2 step lower. You will compensate by fingering a note 1/2 step higher than written. The downsides to using echo horn are: 1) it’s never going to have the characteristic sound that stopped horn does, 2) you’ll have trouble getting much louder than mf with it, and 3) it’s not stopped horn and never will be, but HEY! playing in tune is more important and for those of us with small hands you gotta do what you gotta do! This can especially work for passages in the lower register when you can’t get a stop mute in.

It was great working through these topics today with the TPYO horns. As brass players, fundamentals never get old, they truly are the foundation of every day’s practice! Hopefully these topics give you some ideas you can use for your own technique!

TPYO Horns 2017-18

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