From the Mailbag: How to Play Solos Better


In the Horn Matters inbox this past week was this brief question:


I’m performing these two pieces for a [music school name] exam next week. Any final artistic or technical tips for either in my last week of preparation?


Hi as well! I love the friendly tone, but actually the message had a critical error, it did not specify what two pieces were on the exam. I prefer the question as it is though, it is really open-ended and allows an answer that applies very broadly. For this kind of exam, focus on the basics which are:

  • Accuracy
  • Intonation
  • Rhythm
  • Musicality

Hit all those things and it does not matter what the piece is, for an exam the faculty should be pretty happy.

How to improve those all those things is a big topic, with Accuracy being the biggest. If you are fairly advanced accuracy is related to your chops and preparation. I plan to post something more specific to accuracy soon.

Next up, Intonation. In final preparation practicing with a tuner is vital, you have to line up your playing with reality and you may need to define a new reality! As you may be so used to being slightly out of tune that it sounds normal to you, but the faculty on your exam won’t miss this obvious a problem.

wrong-rhythmFor Rhythm you have to record yourself and be critical (recording can also be a good way to check tuning). An important thing to remember is the rhythm is either right or wrong, it is really easy to judge, so be sure it is correct.

Impressions of Musicality for listeners are above all driven by dynamic control, make sure you don’t sound bland, all the same dynamic. What happens is in a pressure situation some will forget to play dynamics. Be sure you do!

These are the key elements to hit, good luck!

University of Horn Matters