18 Saturday Jul 2009
What makes Kopprasch (i.e. his etudes; we commonly use a bit of synecdoche here, saying Kopprasch when we mean this etudes) so useful technically is that he takes us on a guided tour of the basics of horn playing: scales, arpeggios, steps, leaps, articulation, fast notes, slow notes. Most of it is relatively mechanical, although there are a couple of lyrical studies. Kopprasch is good, solid preparation for the early part of the 19th century.
What does Kopprasch miss?
1) Keys. Even if you play them in the transpositions suggested by subsequent editors, K (as we will refer to him and the etudes hereafter) offers us relatively few keys. The result is that we get good at most of the easier keys and neglect practice in a good many of them. The unfamiliar keys remain mostly less familiar.
2) The real basics. As admirable and useful as the etudes are, in order to take on the form of musical pieces, K uses elaborations of the basics, while not always getting to the basics themselves. Example: look at K #8: 1-3-3-5-5-8-8-7-7-6-6-5-5 goes the opening phrase. The basic element behind this is the major arpeggio 1 3 5 8, or perhaps just 1 3 5. So we spend almost all our time on the elaboration in one (or just a couple) key(s), instead of first becoming highly fluent in the basic element in all keys.
Standards are high and different in the 21st century for horn playing. We need to be prepared for several centuries worth of challenges, but our preparation is steadfastly rooted in preparation for the 19th century. Great stuff, but incomplete.
To remedy this, we can invent our own pre-K exercises.
First of all, take a K etude and pick one (or more, if you have time) melodic motif that can be boiled down to a basic element. We’ve already done this with No. 8, so we’ll start there: the major triad, scale degrees 1 3 5 (in C: C E G).
Now let’s learn it in all keys. We can do this quickly and systematically by playing it through the Cycle, i.e. the Circle of 5ths:
C F Bb Eb Ab Db F# B E A D G
Note that the 5ths descend; each key is the dominant of the following key, making this a very useful order.
You will want to memorize this sequence as soon as possible. All technique should be played with your eyes closed as soon as possible. The object is to get the information in you, burned into your DNA, and not leave it on the page. Your eyes provide quick access to unfamiliar material, but they also slow you down – you can only play as fast as you can read (i.e. process), and you want to get past that as quickly as possible. As soon as you understand the principle of an exercise, close your eyes. It takes a little discomfort, a little struggle, and a little time in the transition. This is normal. This is good. Struggle is where improvement happens.
Play 1 3 5 four times as a triplet in a moderate tempo in the mid-range and play through the Cycle. Make a note of which keys are less familiar than others and go back again. This time 1) play the less familiar ones many times alone until they become more familiar. Be patience. Put in the reps. Start slowly and accelerando gradually until you reach your limit. You may also change the articulation, dynamics, and note values (they don’t need to be all short [SSS for a triplet]; you could also play Long Short Short or SSL or SLS) for variety and added flexibility.
Repeat for each. Some will take longer than others.
Then play in pairs, e.g. F# – B. 4X each before switching. Repeat, increasing tempo; do this until you reach your limit. When you have noticed a significant increase in speed, repeat at 3X. Then 2X. And finally, back and forth only once each. When you can do this very fast (at various articulations), then go to another pair, say Db-Gb and repeat the process.
When you have done all the adjacent pairs, go to 4 keys (e.g. Ab-Db-F#-B) and repeat the process. If you have put in the time and reps in the earlier stages, you will find you will master this much faster.
After this you are ready to do the whole cycle. Start with 4X on each key, build up the speed. Then slow down and go to 3X or 2X, and build up speed again.
You ready to go to 1x each. Build up speed. How fast can you go, completely cleanly and accurately? Change note values (LSS, SSL, etc.), see if you’re still as fast. Change articulation. Try it very soft, very loud.
With me so far?
Now repeat the entire process using a chromatic cycle: C C# D Eb E etc. Keep at it until you’re as fast as the first cycle. You’ll find that it all goes much, much faster this time to get through the whole process. One other trick for chromatics: energetic types will want to do this one again reversing the direction of every other triad, e.g. C: 1 3 5 Db: 5 3 1 D: 1 3 5 Eb: 5 3 1 or C E G/Ab F Db/D F# A/Bb G Eb… It lies well.
Repeat it all again, descending: C B Bb A, etc. It’s it amazing how much easier it all is by this time.
Final exam: make up a random key order and see how that goes: C F# E B Bb D Ab, etc. Make up a couple. See how fast you can get running through them.
At this point you should be feeling pretty good about yourself and what you’ve accomplished. You’ve gone beyond Kopprasch, way beyond. You are now ready not only for K, but for anything that uses a major triad from any era, which is a whole lot of music. You’ve built this pattern into your chromosomes. You need only call it for it and it’s there, no CPU processing involved.
You’re not done, of course. You’re just beginning. Now go back and repeat everything again in minor: 1 b3 5.
After that, you might try jumbling the order (1 5 3; 3 5 1; 3 1 5; 5 1 3; 5 3 1) for additional vitamins.
Remember,all this come from picking one strong idea from one Kopprasch etude. You can find them in every piece you play. It takes a while. It takes patience. But 1) since they are basic units, you will see them again many times, and you will be ready for them, and 2) you are bringing your study of horn and music beyond Kopprasch and into the 21st century. You will acquire a fluency and deep practical understanding and knowledge of music and technique.
It takes time, but, like saving money, the same amount of time will go by and it’s better to have been putting money or technique in the bank all the way along.