Online French Horn Lessons is the online horn studio of Erika Wilsen, a professional horn performer and teacher based in San Diego. Here you will find tips and lessons for French horn students covering scales, basic theory, tunes and more.
The fabulous 50th international horn symposium took place last week in Muncie, Indiana, thanks to the host, Gene Berger, professor of horn at Ball State University.
It was a wonderful week of all things horn! Events began at 8:00 AM and lasted all day, including "night horn choirs" that started at 10:00 PM, for those with energy left after full days of recitals, lectures, master classes, perusing sheet music for horn, and trying out dozens of horns on exhibit.
Professional players, professors, students, horn makers, and enthusiasts from around the world came. Somewhere along the way it was pointed out that "saying yes to something means saying no to other things." This point was made many times over at the conference, as quite often there were multiple events happening concurrently.
Some of my favorite lectures included discussions about the horn as a jazz instrument, the evolution of horn pedagogy in the last 50 years, and Froydis Ree Wekre's discussion, "On being your own teacher." This very well-attended talk (all seats were taken and about 100 horn players sat or stood in the aisles) primarily addressed the mental and psychological challenges we all face in the practice room. I highly recommend her book to anyone serious about horn playing: Thoughts on Playing the Horn Well.
I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with old friends and meeting new ones. It was also such a treat to hear the many new works for horn-- there were many exciting world premieres as well as some lost gems that were rediscovered and performed at the conference. I look forward to adding several of these great pieces to my own repertoire in the next year or so.
Currently, as of summer 2018, my preferred platform for teaching online lessons is FaceTime. Skype and Google Hangouts also work well, but FaceTime seems to be most reliable, with the fewest connectivity, audio, or visual issues. Most importantly, the audio is consistent and in my experience FaceTime has less delay between the two sides of the call. It's probably only a few hundredths of a second different, but I notice the difference.
Skype's biggest issue is that it will sometimes "mute" one side of the call, when it incorrectly perceives that there is too much background noise. This happens usually when a student is playing a long note. However, here is a way to fix that issue.
Technical Issue: How can I stop Skype audio from cutting out momentarily?
Answer: This problem is usually caused by Skype overcompensating for what it believes to be loud background noise levels. Go into Skype’s Tools menu, then to Options… and select the Audio Settings tab. First, check that the HUE camera is selected as the microphone, and then uncheck the box below marked, “Let Skype adjust my audio settings”. Initially it is best to set the volume slider a little less than halfway along the bar. You can adjust this later to suit your preferences. Remember to save your settings before closing the window. The sound levels should now remain steady when you’re making calls.
In case you haven't had a chance to check it out, I highly recommend the IHS Excerpts page. Horn players worldwide are grateful to Daren Robbins, who created this compilation of horn excerpts. There are many wonderful excerpt books out there, some more comprehensive or more in-depth, but the great feature of this excerpt list is the accompanying collection of audio recordings. Horn players can easily see and practice the excerpts, and can also listen to the excerpts--in full context. There are several different audio recordings for each excerpt, allowing listeners to compare and contrast a multitude of styles, tempi, horn sound, etc.
If you don't know where to begin, I recommend listening to and learning Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5.
Scales are not always a favorite practice item.... many students aren't too excited about them. Why practice boring scales?
Ask any musician: Scales are essential--they are the building blocks of music. Thorough knowledge of your scales is comparable to fluency in reading or language. They are not the ABCs, but rather a much more integrated understanding of how words work together.
I suggest that ALL students spend 5 minutes per practice on scales. If you invest 5 minutes into scales every time you practice, you will be amazed at how much you can learn, and how quickly. The key is to ALWAYS practice your scales for those 5 minutes. A complete beginner can spend 5 minutes per day working on the first 5 notes of the C scale. As the student progresses, the entire scale will be achievable. At this point, the student can also use the scale to practice other aspects of playing, such as tonguing more cleanly and slurring smoothly. The student can play the C scale in slow quarter notes, then play it again with two eighth notes per note, then with slurred quarter notes. The remainder of the 5 minutes of scale work is spent on learning a new scale, such as Bb.
Once the advancing beginner can play both C and Bb scales, the C scale is now quite familiar, and can be played perhaps only once at a somewhat faster (but even) tempo. The Bb scale is emphasized by a few repetitions (slurred, tongued, etc). There is now time to add arpeggios to the scales. In a few more weeks, as both scales and arpeggios are familiar, another new scale can be introduced. Every week or two the student will be able to add on either a new scale or new arpeggio, and as more scales become more familiar, they will take up less and less of the 5 minutes set aside for scale acquisition.
In this building block method, a student who practices regularly will be able to play all 12 major scales, one octave, with arpeggios, often within their first year of study.
Intermediate students who are able to play all 12 of their scales one octave can spend the remainder of their 5 minutes of scale study working on adding the second octaves to scales and arpeggios. They may also begin minor scale work.
Advancing students who are able to play all 12 scales two octaves and with arpeggios within five minutes can also work on minor scales, including all forms.
Please note that advanced students may spend significantly more time with their scales and arpeggios. They may be practicing 2 and 3-octave scales in major and all three forms of minor, and may use scales to practice a multitude of other aspects of playing, including double and single tonguing, consistency between registers, dynamics, rhythmic patterns, etc.
While we each have different backgrounds and beliefs, I truly believe we are all brothers and sisters. Candles are an important symbol in many of our winter holidays: our symbol of light over darkness, good over evil, hope and joy quietly chipping away despair. And the holidays are full of beautiful, seasonal music, music that echoes the complexities of our beliefs with their own rich diversity and complexity.
While visiting a dear friend and her family, I came across this gem of a quote. It addresses the very heart of who we are and how we approach life.
It's a quote about our ability to celebrate the wisdoms of all our brothers and sisters. These are our most precious gifts. I cannot think of better gifts to share than music, love, and wisdom. Enjoy your holidays!
A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes. --Buddha
Iosif Andriasov's "Meditation" is one of the most lyrical, peaceful, and meaningful pieces I've had the pleasure to perform. His own son, Arshak, conducted the San Francisco-based orchestra in our recording. It was an honor to perform the piece with him. This recording is from several years ago....I hope you enjoy it. --Erika
Horn MUSIC PIECE - Iosif Andriasov - "Meditation" for French Horn and String Orchestra, Op. 30A - YouTube
I had the great fortune of visiting the Museum of Musical Instruments in Phoenix, Arizona last month. This well-designed museum is an enormous treasure trove of instruments from around the world, tastefully displayed by country and with great recordings accessed via bluetooth headphones.
I was intrigued to discover a bamboo French horn (along with many other bamboo marching band instruments). The accompanying signage explains that the prohibitively expensive cost of instruments led the people of the Philippines to create these beautiful bamboo replicas of European instruments. Bamboo bands are featured in town fiestas and other community events, and symphonic orchestras are also a big part of the musical culture, which has strong European influences. I wish I could have tried it out-- what sort of tone could one get on a bamboo horn? Perhaps better than we imagine: Alphorns have a beautiful tone!
Lip Slurs are an essential part of practicing. They keep our lips strong and flexible. Lip slurs help our embouchure stay consistent as well (ie, we have the same embouchure for all notes), so as a student's range expands, the lip slur exercises' range can also expand.
Below are three lip slurs for beginning, intermediate, or advanced students.
Important Concepts: 1). Breathe in, breathe out. Imagine that your breath is always moving in one direction or the other. Never "hold" your air stationary. Correct breathing keeps your body relaxed.
2). Your ideal air stream (the air you move from your lungs into the mouthpiece when you play) is a very narrow stream of very fast air. Imagine the diameter of your air stream as the diameter of the end of your mouthpiece (it is not the diameter of the mouthpiece cup, but the back side).
3). Arch your tongue as you move up to higher notes to create the smooth lip slurs. Say "ee" in your mouth (not with your lips) as you move higher up, and "aah" as you move down to lower notes, gradually dropping your jaw and your tongue.
Notes: Beginners can practice one lip slur a day, switching to a new lip slur every few weeks. More advanced players can practice at least two different lip slurs each day, with increasing complexity and range and switching more frequently between different exercises.
I also encourage advanced students to make up their own lip slurs-- it can add a fun, new dimension to your lip slurs if you create your own pitch order and rhythm!
SUPPLIES I have included links to Amazon because it is often the easiest option for families picking up supplies. However, you may want to shop around for the best price. There are many online resources besides Amazon (see my resources for students page).
Al Cass Oil Use this very light oil often and regularly. Apply one drop under each valve cap, and 1-3 drops into each slide. Apply every day or at a minimum twice a week.
Superslick Oil Use this heavier oil only on the back side of your rotor valves (NOT in the slides or under the valve caps). Place the needle in the crevice at the base of the large screw that rotates (in the space between the axle and the bearing) and squeeze the oil bottle to apply 1-2 drops for each valve.
Schilke Tuning Slide Grease Use this grease on all of your horn’s slides. There are many great grease choices out there; this one is one I like because it seems to “stick” well. I suggest you apply grease every other week. First, remove slides from your horn. Then, wipe off slides clean with a paper towel (not facial tissues). Apply a small amount of grease to your thumb and finger and lightly coat slide with grease.
Mouthpiece Brush There are several different companies who make mouthpiece brushes that should be fine. If they look like this one they should be fine. Yamaha, Bach, etc all make similar ones. Use with warm soapy water every other week. Scrub the brush in your mouthpiece to clean it, but avoid scratching the mouthpiece with the tip of the brush.
Snake Brush Use the snake brush to clean your lead pipe. First, remove your mouthpiece and first tuning slide. Then, push the brush through the length of your lead pipe to remove “gunk.” Clean every other week. Brushing your teeth before you play will also help minimize junk in your horn.
Packages Brushes: You may want to consider getting both brushes in one package if you need both.
All maintenance supplies: If you need everything, you may want to pick up this handy kit that includes it all. Please note that the oil is synthetic. Since synthetic and natural oil don’t mix, you must first completely wash the inside of your horn if you switch between the two.
Where To Oil Your Horn: A drop on top beneath the cap In the slides on the side In the crack at the back