It is human nature to be curious, what are the keys for success for famous people? The following are five keys to success I have observed or experienced toward playing the French horn on a high level.
Key to Success: Hearing and playing
This is a huge key to success. All great horn players certainly have great ears and high audiation skills. Audiation, according to the Wikipedia, is “a term [Edwin] Gordon coined in 1975 to refer to comprehension and internal realization of music, or the sensation of an individual hearing or feeling sound when it is not physically present.” But the concept is not a new one, as in this quote from Arnold Jacobs: “All brass players should develop the ability to hear music in their heads before playing. The lips act as vocal chords for brass instruments, but (through our thoughts) we have to furnish the message for them.” The bottom line: ideally you should be able to hear music in your head so clearly that it is exactly like listening to a recording – all the parts, on pitch. Building your audiation to this level will help your horn playing more than almost anything else you might try to do, as you know clearly what notes you are aiming for and associate the feeling of producing all aspects of that pitch with the sounds in your head.
Key to Success: Summer study
Another key thing for me certainly was summer studies. I feel sure I started college well behind the level of most of my peers, but each summer I made a full semester of progress. Serious horn lessons will help you make that progress, but even more effective for progress are the rich learning experiences of study at a summer festival.
In my notes for Horn Matters articles I have had this quote for some years, from a now deceased friend. In it she simply said “I remember trying to get ready for auditions and [insert famous teacher name] would just want me to play Kopprasch.” You do need to work out technique, but you also have to work on more than Kopprasch. Kopprasch alone really won’t get you there.
Key to Success: Learn to play low horn well
I had a decent low range by the middle of my grad studies but when you get down to it the two years I was Fourth Horn in Evansville (as a Doctoral student) were a key to the rest of my performing career. I really worked out my break on the job. You need some serious time playing concerts on low horn to get past barriers in your technique; I feel sure it is a part of how I went on to win Third Horn in Nashville. This is why I also emphasize low study in my teaching. There is no one secret to playing low, but there is a process of working it out that involves not only low practice but actual performing. If you are looking for some specific tips and a practical resource for study, check out my “low horn boot camp” publication.
Key to Success: Stop worrying about mouthpiece pressure
The final key on this brief list certainly might sound wrong, but I am really convinced with now over 25 years of teaching that people worry about this way too much. Just play horn, and make it sound good. There really is a “just right” to be found between too much and too little pressure, and the best players use more pressure than you think they do. More on the topic here.