Understanding the Hornmasters on the Warm-Up

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In this series of Hornmasters posts I have presented quotes from classic horn method books on topics in the order presented in the Farkas book. The next topic is that of warming up, a topic that every book addressed to some degree.

The element that I think readers sometimes miss in looking at these is an understanding that there are different but valid fundamental approaches to the warm-up geared to players with different chops and different playing situations. So instead of quoting all the different books without context, first we will in this article look at the topic of different approaches to warming up.

In a prior article I comment on the Scott Whitener A Complete Guide to Brass a bit for the confusing coverage on the Mellophone. But, overall, on the warmup he does get the big picture.

There are two approaches to warming up. Some brass players favor a flexible warm-up, choosing material at random. Others (and the author falls into this group) base their daily warm-up on a series of exercises that have been designed to bring the player’s tone production up to peak form gradually. The flexible approach allows the player to vary the material according to the condition of the embouchure and the time available, but this can also be done in the second approach by having a large variety of daily exercises available. The common point between the two approaches is to avoid forcing the embouchure through set material when it is not up to it (due to heavy playing or a layoff).

Besides the two approaches mentioned by Whitener there are at least a couple more major elements to understand in relation to warm-up routines in books. The first element is a lot of the printed warm-up routines are probably, truth be known, a bit idealized. Some of them are totally honest I am sure, but how strictly others were followed even by the people who wrote them could be called into question. The other element that I would highlight is that most if not all of the players who wrote horn method books were orchestral players. This impacts how they approach warming-up in general.

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Orchestral horn (and brass) players fall clearly into two categories; those that warm-up at hall and those that warm-up at home. I prefer to warm-up at the hall right before the service. Ideally I start playing a half hour before the service and do a twenty minute warm-up routine. If it was a two service day I would do that same routine twice. I did this all the years I was full time in Nashville, and to this day it makes me nuts to warm-up much less than that before an orchestral service. Those that prefer to warm-up at home first would clearly require a different type of warm-up routine than what I would use.

My full time job now though is as horn professor at Arizona State. It took me a few years to figure this out, but when I have a teaching day I really feel best when I do a longer first warm-up. Thus, on an ideal morning I do more playing than I would ever do right before an actual rehearsal or concert but, again, for a teaching day the longer warmup is better.

Then there is the topic of when does warm-up end and practice begin? You really should be pretty warmed-up in roughly ten minutes. After that the playing becomes practice when you get down to it.

Another topic to mention in understanding warm-up routines in general is that of the warm-up should be a part of how you avoid chop problems. A good warm-up in whatever form suits you is really important, don’t be fooled by what you see others do, you may need to do something different than them. A couple years ago I posted an article on this general topic featuring a quote from Gunther Schuller. A longer version of the quote may be found there, but the main point to get readers thinking in relation to how they see others warm up is

Wherever I have travelled there always seem to be a few players who feel–or at least claim to feel–that warming up is not necessary for them. Some of these are indeed excellent players, gifted with natural physical talent for the horn, to whom the warming up that a less natural player requires is an anathema. Around such players a kind of myth arises that the warm-up is a waste of time, and only for weak players–that it is a “sissy” approach to the horn. This gets so insidious at times that others, very impressed by the talent of these “natural” players, feel inferior if they warm up, and consequently become ashamed of their cautious attitude–very often with disastrous results in their playing….

A final topic to address in this more general overview of the warm-up is buzzing. I think more people talk about buzzing than actually buzz at the beginning of their warm-up. To be honest, if it is orchestra, I might buzz a little in the car driving in (especially if I was running late) but that is it. For a longer warm-up though I will work in some buzzing maybe 25% of days, but even then only for a few minutes. Speaking generally I am in favor of buzzing (see here and here), don’t get me wrong, but it is really possible to work yourself into chop problems with buzzing that is too extensive. Use common sense on it.

With that introduction, when we return to this series it will be for a closer look at some of the warm-up ideas put out in classic horn method books.

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