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New Year’s resolutions are about trying to subdue old bad habits and plant the seeds of new, better ones. Just for fun, let’s freeform some NYR’s for ourselves as horn players and musicians. This may require taking a peek or two at the dark side of our nature and our shortcomings, but what the heck.
New Year’s Revolution/Resolution ideas:
1. More efficient practice. To be distinguished from ‘more practice,’ which is also a good idea. But nobody has enough time to practice, so we need to use the time we do have very efficiently. This means getting organized and asking questions like “what do I need to do today, given the state of my chops and what I need to do in the immediate and near future. If you haven’t made a practice chart in a while, it wouldn’t hurt to make one now for your NYR and list the details of your warm-ups, technical review, technical development, etudes, solos, excerpts, chamber music, sight-reading, playing by ear and/or improvising. Since it’s impossible to do everything in one day, a chart that spans a week or two or four is a good idea; you can apportion tasks to different days or weeks. Perhaps Monday is major arpeggios and major scales in half the keys; you get the rest on Tuesday. Then Wednesday is minor arpeggios and the natural minor scale in half the keys. The other half you do on Thursday. Then Thursday is dominant 7th arpeggios in all keys, with harmonic minor scales in half the keys. Or a quarter of the keys. Friday… you get the idea.
This brings us to…
2. Setting goals. You can practice most efficiently if you know where you’re going. What’s coming up? Audition rep? A musical? An opera? Brass quintet concert? Full recital? Concerto with orchestra? A month with a circus band? It makes a difference. If nothing special is on the horizon, you can look at more long-term goals, including working on special technical problems, or attacking some of the sticky bits of a piece that you hope to play some day. Also, from the inventory you made in #1, you’ll have a list of the stuff you can’t do as well as you would like to. Prioritize (weakest area first) and have at it.
3. Getting Control of the Drunken Monkey. The hardest part of horn playing is not horn playing. It’s standing up on stage in front of everyone. Focus exercises are easy to do and just as easy to skip, but they pay excellent dividends in getting control of the nasty little radio in your head that diverts you from focusing on horn playing when you’re up front. Every time you practice, start (and perhaps end) with a minute or two (or five) of focusing your mind on one thing, like your breathing. Or a spot on the wall. Or a mellifluous word.
4. Read a book on the horn. Any book. There are some interesting ones out there on the horn and horn players. Read one every six months or so. Examples: Philip Farkas and his Horn by Nancy Fako; The Early Horn by John Humphries; Dennis Brain by Stephen Pettit; A Call to Assembly by Willie Ruff; An Orchestral Musician’s Odyssey by Milan Yancich; A Devil to Play by Jasper Rees; The Horn and Horn Playing and the Austro-Bohemian Tradition from 1680 to 1830 by Horace Fitzpatrick, The French Horn by Jeremy Montague; and last but certainly least, Complete Method für der Valdhorn oder Ventilhorn by Eric von Schmutzig.
5. Join the Horn Society. And go to workshops. The best part of it is not the acres of gleaming horns, dazzling concerts, or truckloads of sheet music on display – it’s meeting all these wonderful people from everywhere who are as passionate about horn as you are. The only downside is perhaps the three guys in the instrument display area who never go to anything, just blast the Short and and Long Call and things of that ilk continuously from dawn until after dusk. The concessionaires are saints (or deaf) to make it through that part. But everything else is great.