HORN PLAYING IS FUN! op.74
Getting started on the horn is something that can be fun, despite all the challenges that this instrument has to offer to its beginners. This is the main idea that serves as the motto for the creation of this book of pieces for horn and piano.
In different countries, the initial approach to the horn is done either in F as well as in B?, so these pieces can be interpreted in both instruments, but F horn fingerings will be easier.
The range was limited to a bit little more than an octave, from a to g’, because from g' on, there is suddenly an added difficulty for the students that begin in F horn, since that with the same fingering it is possible to play both an a' and a g'.
But then, how does playing horn can be fun when we are talking about an instrument known as one of the most difficult ones to learn?
As with any instrument it is important to maintain a regular practice, but in the specific case of the horn this is essential. Otherwise it will never be a pleasurable activity. Moreover in a short period of time students will find out why the horn has such a bad reputation. With daily practice instead the horn will provide many joys and challenges to its players.
To help in this process I tried to have some differentiating elements in these pieces. Not very common practices in the repertoire of horn beginners, that at first sight can leave the horn teacher intrigued. However, these elements are not mere aesthetic accessories, they have been thought pedagogically to keep the students’ enthusiasm while they work some essential aspects of the performance, but in such a veiled way that they won’t even be aware of it.
The illustrations of this book were done by my beginner students at the Academia de Música de Costa Cabral, Oporto, Portugal.
I - Just follow your fingers! - One of the main difficulties of getting started on the horn is that it is required to have a great control of the sound pitch from the very first approach. If, on one hand, it is important to insist on this aspect, on the other as soon as the student begins to realize that he is not controlling the pitch of the sound, he will begin to feel demotivated. In this piece he will only need to literally follow his fingers! The student can choose which notes, rhythms, articulations and dynamics he wants to play, and he only has to follow a single rule: use the indicated fingering. Meanwhile, the pianist plays three dominant chords corresponding to each of the tube lengths: Horn in F, E? and D?. The student will most likely play notes up to the 8th overtone of each series, which forms precisely a dominant 7th chord.
So, the initial difficulty in controlling pitch is deliberately ignored and in the meantime students can get used to the instrument naturally and practice other skills: being able to play higher and lower notes; being able to play notes with different dynamics, being able to perform different rhythms and articulations and finally to be able to improvise without fear from the very beginning, which is an essential skill and so often neglected in the context of musical learning. As the student begins to master the sound pitch, other challenges may be addressed, for example: the first note played in each fingering has to be lower and the next higher, and only later will be defined that the first note or the second is required to be played on a specific pitch.
The pianist may simply play what is written, but ideally he should change the rhythms, notes, dynamics and articulations in order to "dialogue" with the horn player. The chords indicated have F horn as reference, if the student is using a B? horn, the pianist should transpose the chords a perfect 4th above (B?, A?, G?, A?, B?).
II - Cow's Waltz - When students begin to play the horn, it is normal not having the notion of the height of the key levers, so sometimes they end up pressing them half-way, producing a sound that resembles the sound of a cow. Instead of considering these sounds as undesirable, in this piece they were used in a constructive way, allowing the student to practice the difference between pressing a key partially or entirely. In addition, to imitate this sound, it is necessary to control the sound pitch with the so-called "lip bending", an essential technique to control the tuning and focus the sound. Last but not least, simply because imitating the sound of a cow using the horn, is fun, thus contributing to students' enthusiasm. The funny accompaniment of the piano reinforces the joke, since dancing a waltz is certainly the last thing you would imagine a cow to do...
III - The Elephant - Explain a student how to control the dynamics and the pitch can be made in several ways. For the beginners the metaphors and comparisons usually present good results. In order to produce notes in the high range, a higher air speed is required, and when playing a more intense dynamic, both the amount and air speed are increased. Thus, asking a student to imitate an elephant with the horn is a great way to increase the dynamics and improve the control of the high range. The piece begins in a minor key, like a sad elephant, gradually begins to become happier, accompanied by greater dynamic intensity until it becomes furious and begins trumpeting. This sound is imitated with a glissando in the horn in F and in E. If played on a B? horn should be used the corresponding fingerings (B?1•3 and B?1•2•3)
IV - The Desert Snake - Controlling the rapid movement of the fingers is another challenge for the younger player. In this piece the trills represent the snake undulating its tongue. In F horn this piece can be played only by moving the second finger, with the exception of the d' on the cp. 22, which is nothing more than a small "trap" left by the serpent. In the case of B? horn, the fingerings aren't so simple and there is an alternative for the d? trill (B?1(1•3). It is usual for students to adopt left hand postures that, although incorrect, eventually end up working in the initial slow repertoire. Further than to serve an ornamental purpose, the fingered trills were included in this piece for another pedagogical question, since in order to move the fingers quickly, they must be arched, or the movement will not be fluid. In addition, in order to make a trill it is necessary to maintain a solid air flow. Because they appear at the end of phrases, with crescendo and diminuendo, they can also help students practice breathing control.
V - The Blue Train - In this piece, the horn and the piano will imitate the sound of a train. The horn player begins by imitating the train speeding up, with quarter notes, eighth notes, and sixteenth notes produced by blowing into the mouthpiece. Other than imitating a train, students will be also making subdivisions and controlling the air flow using the lip aperture, but without having to worry about the pitch. Meanwhile the pianist is in charge of the train whistle, but soon afterwards, the horn also imitates the whistle. For this, it will have to play without the 3rd valve tuning slide, a very fun effect, but once again that also has a pedagogical purpose. To produce an intense sound without the tuning slide it is necessary to increase both the speed and amount of air, activating the abdominal muscles. This way, when the student plays again with the tuning slide in place, he will be able to produce more intense dynamics with greater ease. The blue word also has another connotation, since this piece is based on the form of a Blues.
VI - Honk your Horn! - In this last piece the horn player won't use 3rd valve tuning slide, but this time he will be imitating a car horn. This programmatic piece describes the story of a car on a trip. Suddenly, the driver begins to get impatient in a traffic jam, increases speed and suffers an accident, fortunately an ambulance arrives, also announced by the horn. This last piece, at a faster speed, allows students to practice the coordination between the lips, tongue and fingers, as well as the concept of accelerando and rallentando .