Archive for the ‘French Horn’ Category

The Warm Up!

November 11, 2013

Carrie Blosser, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Carrie Blosser, trumpet and brass instructor at The Lesson Studio.

Carrie Blosser, trumpet and brass instructor at The Lesson Studio.

The warm-up in brass performance is the most important part of the daily practice. It is in this time that you as a musician have the opportunity to address the fundamentals of brass performance in a critical and thoughtful way! As much as any other part of the practice session, the warm-up also contains the opportunity for each and every brass performer to grow and learn on a daily basis.

Warm-up thoughts:

First and foremost, the warm-up should be musical and of the highest quality possible. Every note that you play on your instrument should be the most musical and best sounding quality that you are able to play. Play everything musically no matter what!! The physical functions in brass playing should always be guided by musical goals.

Many brass players (and much of our literature) are focused on the mechanical aspects of playing and lose sight of the fact that the physical aspect of playing is most effectively produced as a product of musical goals.

The warm-up should be done daily, and as early in the day as possible. Before school or work is the best time to do a long or short warm-up, even if that is the only playing you do in your day. By putting in your time daily, you are reinforcing great fundamental habits on your instrument. What is done in the warm-up sets the tone for the day, the week, the month, etc.

The warm-up should not be done if the musician is not thinking about what they’re doing. Mental focus on your warm is an essentially element, not your math test, work presentation, or other daily things. Focus on the quality of sound you are about to product and the musical goals for your day.

The warm-up should be comprehensive without being excessively tiring. Schedule your practice time, whatever the amount of available time, make it your goal to hit every part of the warm-up. Condense or expand your warm-up as time allows, this way you are touching on every essential of your instrument everyday!

The most important facet of the warm-up is the direct relationship of musical goals with the most efficient physical means available. Efficiency and musicality go hand in hand, focusing on a musical product allows you to forget about the physical nature of playing.

Warm-up format:

Mental Focus: Focusing attention on the musical task at hand

Breathing – Free Flowing Breath of Air – Use OH-HO as a model

Mouthpiece playing – single notes – Sing then Buzz

Maintaining Interest: Internal Struggle or Empathy

June 21, 2012

By Tung Pham, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Tung Pham, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Tung Pham

Young musicians go through it. Teachers weather the storm. And neither party likes it. It’s boredom. Students of music at all levels, young and old, inevitably go through it. They feel stuck, complacent and uninspired.  They feel like what they are doing sometimes has no purpose. I have sometimes felt this way myself. The following are a collection of ideas to get students of the arts motivated once again to work their craft and feed their intangibles.

Find the point of excitement at which you/your young person decided that studying music  was something that they wanted. Listen to that recording that made you feel like a kid again. Find that You Tube video of that awesome performance that you remember playing over and over again. When you do find it, listen, watch and soak it in. Those kinds of performances/recordings taught me about the possibilities of music and what could be done on my instrument. They inspired curiosity, excitement and wonderment. Undoubtedly, your student has felt those same things as well.

Once you do look backwards and find something, share it. Share it with your loved ones, friends, and colleagues and show them why you thought it was so awesome. 9 times out of 10, they’ll share your enthusiasm and love you for it. For me, the Original Fables of Faubus by Charles Mingus stands as one of my all-time favorite recordings. There are so many levels to why I appreciate it, historically, sociologically, musically. Check it out when you get a chance.

If you do think that your student is under-inspired, it’s never a bad idea to take a step back. Find the things that they enjoy doing and go for it. Playing music requires balance in life, just like everything else. See a movie, play some sports, go for a hike, paint a masterpiece. Inspiration for music study can come from anywhere and anyone. Remember, it’s all about self-enjoyment and satisfaction. Musicians study because they want to, not because they have to.

Summer Music Fun!

April 2, 2012

By Denise McCoy, Voice, Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Summer is right around the corner! Keeping kids entertained with social events will make any parent happy. Why? …Because happy kids equals happy parents. There are plenty of Memorial Day events in and around Denver and Boulder. As most Boulderites know, Memorial Day brings the Creek Fest. It’s a three-day festival with vendors, music, food, dancing, and even a little ducky race down the creek! There is a little bit of something for everyone. On the performance end, there will be five stages with various shows. The five stages are broken up according to interest and age, which are: bandshell, festival stage, community dance stage, kids’ stage, as well as teens’ stage. Information can be found on their website at:

If Boulder isn’t an option, or you want a variety of weekend plans, Denver has baseball games, concerts, an arts festival, and a parade! More detailed information can be found on their website at:

Once Memorial Day weekend is over, summer music lessons are a great way to keep kids engaged in something fun and educational. Music lessons can help students prepare for the following year (get ahead!) or to catch up from the previous year. For any students who have auditions coming up for various musicals, shows, or choirs, the summer is the perfect time to hone in on the skills needed to succeed in your audition.

There are plenty of ways to keep your kids busy with music this summer! Look around at various websites and festivals for opportunities! Your kids will thank you, and you might enjoy the family time too!


It’s all about routine!

September 6, 2011
Tung Pham, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio
Tung Pham

by Tung Pham, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Having a steady routine will help any musician develop consistency in their playing and build a solid foundation for further development. For brass players in particular, having a routine is essential to building strength in the embouchure which is a necessary for players of all levels.  Routine exercises can happen in a number of different ways:

1)      The Warm Up – you have heard it before from band directors, choir teachers and private lesson instructors… “You need to warm up before you play!” Not warming up is the number one cause for not sounding good. 9 out of 10 teachers agree that negligence in warming up is the number one cause for bad intonation, lack of focus and bad breath. (ok, so maybe not bad breath). Having a well organized warm up routine based on fundamental techniques such as breathing and  building /maintaining tone are cornerstones.

Suggested warm ups include: long tones  (for breathing, air control, tone building) , scales (control, theory and finger technique)

2)      Flexibilities – regularly playing flexibilities is the quickest and most efficient way to make your “chops” (lips) hurt! 😉 It’s also the most efficient way to build strength in your embouchure. Playing brass instruments is an extremely physical undertaking that requires the coordination of many muscle groups that have to do with breathing, blowing, lower back, arms, hands and fingers. Regularly slurring passages and playing through flexibility etudes helps the player transcend physical restraints and refocus on creating music.

Suggested flexibility books: Max Schlossberg Technical studies, Advanced Lip Flexibilities for trumpet, Arban Complete Conservatory Method for Trumpet

The most important idea of routine is consistency! Consistently going through warm ups and other exercises will show immediate results in how you play by reinforcing carefully placed good habits. Talk to your teacher about how to set up a good warm-up routine. Every time you pick up your instrument, it should be with purpose. For you naysayers at home, routine doesn’t mean to exclude learning new materials. Learning new concepts or music can also be put into routine. Parents can help facilitate the process of routine at home. Let’s get organized. Happy practicing!

Taking Care of Your Horn

July 14, 2010
EJ Swider, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

EJ Swider

By EJ Swider, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

As brass players our instruments are very resilient to temperature and humidity. But it is far too often that we forget entirely to pay attention to their cleanliness. How many times have you ignored that sticky valve or seen something funky come out of your water key?

Oiling and cleaning our horns should be a regular part of our routine and in the long run will not only save you money but will make you sounds better!

First things first, valves and slides should be oiled as needed.

Basically, whenever they feel sluggish. This depends on what kind of oil you use and how often you play. I usually oil my slide every other day, but some people need to only once a week. You should ask your private teacher which oil is best for you.

It is a good idea to give your horn monthly baths and a major cleaning. For the bath remove all valves (don’t put the valves in the water! but slides are ok) and all of the tuning slides and clean them separately  (see next paragraph). Fill a bathtub with lukewarm water, make sure it isn’t hot. Add a few tablespoons of dish soap. Make sure there is enough water to completely cover your horn and let it soak for about 10 minutes. Take a snake (a long metal wire with brushes at each end that can be bought for a few dollars at any music store) and run it through each part of your horn to get any gunk out. Then rinse in the soapy water. After cleaning out each part of your horn empty the water out of the tub and refill it with cool, not soapy water. Now rinse each part of your horn to make sure all of the gunk is out and the soap is rinsed off. At this point lay out a towel and lay out the horn which is still disassembled and let it air dry for about an hour.

Now you can reassemble your super clean horn!

Applying grease to tuning slides is often overlooked and forgotten about. I clean and grease my tuning slides during my monthly major cleaning. I first take them all out. Rub them with a cheese cloth to remove any grease and then very lightly apply tuning slide grease. I say grease instead of oil because what you apply to tuning slides is very thick, the consistency of vaseline. It is thicker because you don’t want your tuning slides moving around when you don’t want them to!

Cleaning mouthpieces is also often overlooked. A mouthpiece brush can be purchased for only a few dollars and can make a big difference.

After a few weeks of playing a thin film of gunk (that’s the technical term) can form in the shank of your mouthpiece. At first this won’t make much of a difference in your playing, but over time it can grow.

Even a small bit of gunk can make a big difference in the flow of your air which directly effects how you sound. So every week I run my mouthpiece under warm water and clean it out with the mouthpiece brush. It only takes a minute and makes a big difference.

So remember to be diligent with cleaning your horn. Oiling the valves or slide whenever it needs it, greasing the tuning slides, cleaning the mouthpiece, and giving it a monthly bath! A clean horn is a good horn.

AAA Brass

March 9, 2010

By Miles Horn, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Miles Horn, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Miles Horn

I grab my Miles Davis, “Live Around the World” CD and slide it into my car’s player. As the disc is fed into the machine and I hear the familiar whir of plastic parts, I ponder about the technology behind the music coming out of my speakers. Not the technology in the speakers nor in the CD player, but technology on a more basic and much more fundamental level: how does Mr. Davis’s trumpet produce those amazing tones? How did the trumpet evolve time? And what, if any, is the importance of those little valves?

As to the history of valves and the brass family, it’s best to start at the beginning of it all. No one is positive what the first lip reed instruments were, but certain historians believe they were conch shells, hollowed tubes from specific plants (like bamboo or eucalyptus), or hollowed animal horns and bones. An early example was the Shofar, a goat’s horn used to call members of the Jewish faith to prayer. It wasn’t until humans were able to forge more malleable metals into thinner forms that the modern lip reed family truly blossomed. Bronze was used early on to contsruct horns but was too bulky and did not resonate richly, but the introduction of brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, marked a large step forward for the development of horn instruments.

Brass made shaping horns much easier. Compared to bronze, the alloy has a lower melting point, is more malleable, and produces a brighter clearer tone. The material helps create resonance and makes tuning easier because each metal has a different resonating frequencies.

Equally important is the shape and length of the horn, for they contribute to the production of the harmonic series of any brass instrument. The discovery of the harmonic series is credited to a priest named Marin Mersenne. He discovered that within each note were multiple overtones that do not sound as loudly. These overtones make up the harmonic series which, before the invention of the valve, were the only notes that could be played on a horn, meaning that there was one fundamental note and then the next note at exactly double the frequency and so on until the player reached the instrument’s physical limits. This is why bugle calls, like the familiar ‘Taps’ melody or the theme for the Kentucky Derby, are so sparse in notation; bugle players could play chromatically but only after reaching the 18th partial in the harmonic series. On a pipe tuned to concert A above middle C, which has the frequency 440 Hz, the next partial is at 880 Hz, and to play chromatically, the player must start playing at 7920 Hz. This is hard to achieve for any musician, and in the early days of brass music, the men who played herald trumpets and signal horns in the royal courts sported the best teeth of anyone around.

On December 6, 1814, an inventor named Heinrich Stölzel wrote a letter to King Frederick William III of Prussia asking if the King would use Stölzel’s new invention, the valved horn, in his royal and military bands. Unfortunately for Stölzel, few the big composers, sponsors, and even players tolerated the use of early valved instruments, and Stölzel was repeatedly rejected during his correspondence with the royal court.

Meanwhile, also in Prussia, Friedrich Blühmel was also trying, unsuccessfully, to patent his new invention, a different variation on the valved horn. Since these two men could not patent their new designs alone, they decided to work together, and on April 12, 1818, the two men received their joint patent. Two minutes later, Stölzel turned to Blühmel and purchased his half of the patent for 200 Thalers, or dollars, and sent another payment two months later..

With the invention of the valve, the playable range of an instrument was extended beyond the harmonic series of that instrument. The valves added length to the horn and created a new harmonic series in the instrument, opening the door to chromatic playing within a more comfortable range. Chromatic playing meant to the music industry of the early 19th century a new step in melodic lines. Suddenly, a player could play any note within multiple harmonic series by simply depressing a button or lever. Anybody, even those with poor dental hygiene, were capable of playing music.

The valved horn is a relatively simple mechanism. Air is pushed into the horn through the mouthpiece, creating sound by the vibration of the buzzing lips of the player. With the horn at its natural position, with no valves depressed, it is at a set length and will respond to a certain manipulation within its own harmonic series at that length. The valve redirects the air into passageways that lengthen the horn enough to create a dramatic difference. Think of a slide whistle and the effect of pulling the slide out: lengthening the instrument lowers the tone . Now imagine if you could instantly have the slide at the bottom of the whistle by pressing a button or lever. Presto! You have the basic concept of valves on a brass instrument.

It might not seem that moving the air from the primary pipe into the valve pipes matters, but there are ways to tailor valves to certain styles of playing. Stölzel’s design was a fairly simple one and is still used today on instruments like the modern trumpet, baritone, euphonium, and some tubas. The design, called a piston valve, consists of a single cylinder that holds the entire construction of the valve.

All types of valves have their pros and cons, most of these cons have to do with how cleanly the air is redirected and what happens to it when it does. when the valve is depressed on the modern trumpet, the air is sent through several 90 degree turns which contribute to sound degradation and creates more pressure within the instrument, making it harder to blow through and produce tone. The sound degrades because of the shape of the tubing and the bend within that tubing. When a player buzzes into the mouthpiece, they create a pressure difference that moves laterally, and as a result, the sound waves continue to move in their initial path and do not respond well to turns or changes in direction. This happens in the valve that Stölzel invented. Stölzel’s design is much better for playing fast licks because the valve moves much more smoothly, but it requires a few more pumps between notes and playing legato was more difficult for the musician. The valves Blühmel invented is more capable of playing long slow legato lines but is not as quick as the piston valve. Blühmel’s valve design, instead of sending the air through 90 degree redirections, maintained the lateral direction on which the air flows. The tubing lined up in a straight line, and the instrument was lengthened without losing any quality of sound. Instead of turning into the lengthened pipe, the valve just continues straight ahead, causing no reflection or refraction of sound waves.

There are many options for valve construction that have been invented since, one of which is the rotary valve. It is very similar to the piston valve but lays on its side. The rotary valve has many of the draw backs of the piston valve but is better for playing legato lines.

Though brass has been evolving for millenia, we have not seen the last of brass design. People are still tweaking the instruments to make them more well rounded for playing in all styles. One of the new horn designs that was once being worked on by Mark Veneklausen, who tried to remove all 90 degree turns from his model of the French Horn. Unfortunately, he lost funding for his project and the Vhorn, as it was called, was lost. However, the demise of the Vhorn shows that the evolution of Brass design has not stopped.

Can You See What You’re Playing? And I’m not talking about the notes on the page.

March 9, 2010

By Hollie Bennett, Intern at The Lesson Studio

You know you’re a true music nerd when you start finding all the similarities between everything you do or see and how it could relate to music. And you know you’re especially bad when you just see something and bam! Now that you watched that special on the Discovery channel about outer space, you know how you can explain vibrato to the twelve year old. But really, finding those parallels between, let’s just call it this for fun, the “real world” and the “music world” can help you understand exactly what you’re doing even more than before.

Imagery is such a staple part in music, at least for me. Hearing a piece of music that really attaches itself to me makes me feel in colors, imagine stories and truly understand the emotion that the composer or performer was trying to convey. Part of me thinks that as a musician that is your true purpose in life is to tell the story, show the audience what is happening, even if you don’t know, you need to show that you do. Sometimes doing crazy things like pulling out your box of 64 Crayola crayons that you haven’t used since the fourth grade and literally coloring your music the color that you thinks conveys each part of your piece can do wonders. Even making up words to go along with what you’re playing or seeing a story that can play out in your head can get the emotional and expressive side to connect with the technical of your playing.

One of my favorite topics to bring up to students is the Olympics. I’ve probably been driving my students crazy trying to convince them to watch everything from figure skating to the super-g to curling. The parallels between musicians and athletes are really interesting to me. How much work each party puts into perfecting their own craft is mind blowing: hours in practice versus hours on the ice or snow. You can find so many similarities. Figure skating spins and trills is one of my own teacher’s favorite analogies. You can also think of the idea of balancing between technique and musicality as the way a speed skater like Apolo Ohno and J.R. Celski balance around their turns with speed skating. So go out and try to find those parallels and start imagining them will you play. It might just help even more than you’d think!

Winter/Spring Semester Registration Begins

November 12, 2009

On Monday, November 16, 2009, The Lesson Studio (TLS) will begin its Winter/Spring Semester registration!

The dates for our Winter/Spring Semester 2010 are: January 9 – May 21, 2010

TLS has instructors for guitar, piano, voice, drums, bass, violin, viola, saxophone, clarinet, trombone, trumpet, tuba, euphonium, ukelele, oboe, cello, flute, mandolin and banjo! We also offer music therapy, a free workshop series, and summer music camp. We have an in-store drop-off/pickup for instrument repair. Included with your semester tuition are weekly instruction with the teacher of your choice; supplies including weekly goal sheets, staff paper, CDs, and music charts; assistance from three administrative staff people; free Wi-Fi in the reception area; 10% off coupon for a local music store; and best of all, an end-of-semester recital! Our Fall recital is held at the Old Main Chapel at CU and our Spring recital is held ON STAGE at the Boulder Creek Festival!

If you are a current student, be sure to let our staff know if you prefer the same day/time or a new time slot for your music lesson. If you are new to The Lesson Studio, please call 303-543-3777 for your FREE CONSULTATION today!

As always, please visit for more information.The Lesson Studio logo