Less is More, Or: It’s the Principle of the Thing
05 Monday Oct 2009
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I’ve often marveled at method books that apparently consider horn players to be idiots. They demonstrate a useful pattern, and then proceed to waste forests of paper in writing out the same pattern or exercise in all keys. It’s not just horn books, of course. I once very hopefully bought a book of “jazz scales” that turned out to be nothing more than normal up and down octave scales written with a bit of syncopation – same rhythm in all keys, all written out, of course. Lots of paper. Filled the book. Good idea, but it could have been expressed very briefly, then left up to the player to extrapolate. Waste of time/money.
There are two reasons that I can think of for this practice: 1) it’s hard to sell a book whose entire content could be printed on less than a 3″X5″ card – i.e. if they didn’t write out the exercise in all keys and 2) we as horn players, or brass players, expect to be treated like idiots, because that’s all we’ve ever known. 3) Our classical training is entirely see-one-play-one. Our instruments are silent unless in the presence of music notation. We’re not used extrapolating from principle, or to thinking in scale degrees (1 2 3 4 5 etc.), which are the first step in going directly to the principle of the exercise or pattern and then learning without reference to musical notation. The first goal of learning should be to get the information into the player and not leave it on the page. We quicken this process by getting off the page as soon as possible (memorization) and understanding the principles behind the notation.
One example of this is a very good book that comes to mind is for cornetists/trumpeters: Herbert L. Clarke’s Technical Studies. He starts off with a useful chromatic exercise but doesn’t feel that the player has brains/skill/talent/mental capacity enough to extrapolate moving this exercise to begin on other notes, so he writes it out for the whole range of the instrument. The other exercises in the book are the same. Except for the etudes, this whole book could be compressed into one page easily.
Horn method books often write out overtone exercises in all keys (i.e. fingerings: 0, 2, 1, 12, 23, 13) as well, which retards learning. All you really need is one example and then the instructions: play through the fingering series.
Later editors of Kopprasch did give us a little credit by giving examples of articulation before some of the etudes as well as suggested transpostions. Bravo – that’s what I’m talking about.
Using metasymbols such as scale degrees and key cycles (all keys in various orders), I once put together on one page what is probably more technique than one person can work on in his whole life. For example, lists of diatonic patterns: 171, 13, 123, 1231, 1234, and so on. Do in all keys, many scale types, various articulation, various dynamics and tempos. Using this system I could put enough material on one note card to last an entire summer vacation and beyond.
Less is more in this case. You just have to use basic principles and then extrapolate and vary. Almost none of it has to be written down. This will get the knowledge in you, your chops, your fingers, much quicker than reading it off the page.
Then, when it’s time to read off the page and develop that skill, you will have already programmed chops and fingers to call up these basic technical moves very quickly.