Warming-up before Farkas: Basic Technical Studies by Harold Meek


Recently I had a realization that so far as I can tell I don’t recall seeing a warm-up routine described in any horn publication before WWII. You can find random exercises and technical studies of course many places, but nothing actually presented as a warm-up routine using that wording.

It would appear that the first horn warm-up routine that was called a warm-up routine was published in Farkas, The Art of French Horn Playing (1956). But there were at least two, separately published routines for horn that were clearly warm-up routines already in print at that time.

One I have written about before, a 1948 publication, Tonal Flexibility Studies for French Horn by William Mercier. In the preface he dedicates the book “To Louis Dufrasne, whose studies comprise a large part of this book.” Dufrasne was the main teacher of Farkas, which renders this book rather significant. The Mercier book is better known today in the version republished as Dufrasne Routine in an edition by Thomas Bacon (more on both publications at the links).

Meek-Basic-Technical-StudiesThe other earlier publication of this type I have located is Basic Technical Studies for the French Horn by Harold Meek (1914-1998). Perhaps better remembered today as the first editor of The Horn Call, Meek was an Ohio native and had a long performing career in the Boston Symphony (1943-63), following studies with Anton Horner at Curtis and Arcadi Yegudkin at Eastman.

(When I was a student at Eastman many years later Meek was one of the few guests to give a presentation to the horn studios. In cleaning my office just this week I stumbled upon my folder of his handouts. I recall him bringing a natural horn, but the topics on the handouts are unrelated to historic horns or the warm-up.)

Basic Technical Studies was published in 1947 and is clearly intended as a warm-up routine. In the introduction he states

The following technique studies are intended to be practiced in the order in which they are presented. They are progressively arranged so that the lips are exercised and built up with the least possible strain to them. Therefore it is important that the studies be practiced in their chronological order. All the exercises are to be practiced every day, with the exception of the section devoted to intervals….

He goes on to explain that you are to select one example in each key every day, rotating through exercises in this section. He concludes,

The estimated amount of time to be spent “DAILY” on this material before the player goes on to the study of Etudes, orchestra studies and solos is about forty minutes.

The routine itself starts fairly slowly and stays in the lower range longer than most horn routines I have seen. Notes above G at the top of the staff are not approached until page 27, some 30 minutes in (!), and even then have a note cautioning that they only be practiced daily if “the student has a sufficiently developed embouchure.”

It is a very workable routine that addresses long tones, interval studies, arpeggios, slurs, and tonguing. I have enjoyed experimenting with it and would rate it well worth seeking out, especially if you are into the history of warming up on the horn. I suspect it may actually be the first published routine of the type, and it is still in print today!

Going back to the lack of horn warm-up publications before WWII, my initial conclusion is that warming-up as we think of it today was a concept being developed by some of the more progressive brass teachers of the early 20th century. It would seem that the idea originates with brass teaching in the USA, perhaps influenced by athletic training methods of the day.

If you look way back to natural horn methods you can find lots of little, one line exercises. I strongly suspect that players of that time used those short studies much as we would to warm up, but did not do them in fixed routines as we tend to, doing just enough to feel ready to go into playing actual music or to work on specific technical issues. “Warm-up” probably was generally more along the lines of noodling some passages until you felt ready to go into real playing. Which was probably also not a great way to start playing sessions – which some players had undoubtedly also figured out even then, but had not presented in a book.

The benefits of warming-up seem to have become clear to better teachers by the 1930s. Meek seems to have had good instruction on the topic during conservatory studies with Horner and/or Yegudkin, and Farkas is another great example. Farkas was a talented high school age horn player in the early 1930s and he benefited greatly from having a teacher like Louis Dufrasne who taught an organized warm-up routine as a foundation of his teaching. Having benefited from this as a student Farkas went on win his first professional, full time first horn job while still in high school, and passed on his experiences in his famous 1956 publication.

After the Farkas book pretty much every subsequent horn publication has something more to add on the topic. For an overview of the warm-up in horn publications, the series of articles beginning with “Understanding the Hornmasters on the Warm-Up” is a good place to start.

To close, I love warming up. It is my favorite part of the playing day. Over the years my warm-up habits have changed drastically. When I was taking auditions and playing full time in Nashville I had a very fixed routine. That routine became longer and more variable during the early years of teaching full time, but now over time it has become shorter and more open ended. The actual “warm-up” is presently fairly short — then moving to a “menu” of short exercises and routines. With having played horn seriously now for (gulp!) close to 40 years changing things up from time to time has kept things fresher. The point being I still warm up, but as a career goes on there really is no need to be a lifetime slave to any one magic warm-up routine.

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