Preparing for All-State – Fundamentals

If you’re a high school horn player in Kentucky, by now you’ve probably seen the All-State audition music for this year. Although it’s certainly challenging, make sure you spend at least a third to half of your practice time on developing good fundamentals with basic exercises! There are a couple of good reasons for this:

  1. Good fundamentals will let you play anything well, not just what you’ve spent hours (or days!) practicing, and basic exercises give you the best chance at hearing (and feeling) what is “good” and what is “not”. Good basics become especially important when you are faced with sight reading under pressure.
  2. Practicing the basics away from the music limits the amount of time you play important music with bad habits. If you’ve got a habit of bad articulation, excess pressure, not breathing deeply enough, not counting rhythms, inability to play high (or low) notes, etc., the last thing you want to do is ingrain those bad habits in audition music! Spend some time sorting out those problems away from the All-State music, and bring the solutions you develop to all the music that you play!

This time of year many students are spending a lot of time on the mellophone and a lot of time in after-school rehearsals for marching band, so practice time on the horn is likely somewhat (or very) limited. If this is the case for you, make sure you spend time developing and maintaining good muscle memory for the “real” horn.

A Sample Quick Routine

A good 10-20 minute routine to help repair “mellophone chops” and keep up horn technique should include:

  1. Long tones
  2. Articulation exercises – on the same note and changing notes
  3. Flexibility
  4. Scales and arpeggios – at least 1 or 2 octaves. All keys, but you don’t have to do them all every day!
  5. Low register
  6. Right-hand awareness

While this can seem like a lot to go over, don’t forget that many of these things can be combined for maximum efficiency!

Remington exercises are great for combining long tones and low register work, and Schlossberg exercises are great for combining long tones and articulation (these are on my French horn exercises page). Flexibility exercises are often arpeggios, and practicing scales can often be used to work on articulation (also on my horn exercises page). The right hand is used at all times, and so a quick refresher on right-hand position before each practice session should serve as plenty of a reminder.

Have any questions? Let me know!

About Colin Dorman

Colin is a freelance horn player and teacher, as well as a fan of tech of all sorts, aviation, and increasingly complex flight simulators. He also enjoys beer, bourbon and fitness - but not at the same time. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, as well as right here at!