Tradition vs Progress in Horn Pedagogy and Playing


A new post over at HornMatters.com by John Ericson about the future of French horn playing raise some very interesting points about the negative side of “traditional pedagogy”, and raises quite a few good points for teachers (and students) who want to continue to move forward.

Tradition Vs. Progress

The basic premise of Mr. Ericson’s article is:

We won’t see the potentials of the future of the French horn until we address complacency and demand superior products.

The products that he is referring to are not just equipment, but also pedagogical information (both written and passed down by word-of-mouth) and horn study materials.

I’m discussing a few of the points that stuck out to me here, but don’t forget to go read the original article here!

Equipment “Traditions”

I know I’ve seen several students challenged by mediocre or bad equipment, sometimes because the recommendation of the teacher was simply to “get a [insert single brand or model here]”. There are lots of good horn makers around today, and some legendary models are no longer worth considering. I discuss lots of these kinds of things on my page about buying a French horn, if you’re interested in more specifics, but the short version is: try lots of things.

In terms of equipment, Mr. Ericson also discusses mouthpieces – a subject near and dear to my heart, if you can’t tell! I still see lots of students struggling on pretty tiny mouthpieces (with expected results). While I don’t think young students (or schools) need (or can afford) 2- or 3-piece mouthpieces, there are definitely some pretty good options available for way under $100. My page on choosing a mouthpiece and my mouthpiece comparison chart are good resources if you’re curious.

Pedagogy and Repertoire “Traditions”

There’s no doubt that lots of the pedagogical and etudes available for horn are, to put it mildly, quite dated. From the famous Art of French Horn Playing to everyone's favorite etude book, there are lots of materials for horn players that haven’t aged well.

The Farkas book isn’t bad by any means – the warm-up exercises are good (for advanced students) and there’s lots of good advice about transposition and some musical ideas that are worth knowing, but there are lots of newer publications that do a better job explaining the mechanics of playing much better. I have several of them listed on my French horn books and music page, check them out if you’re looking for something a bit different.

As far as horn etudes go, while I’ve certainly used Kopprasch I’ve been experimenting with shorter, more varied etude collections. I haven’t used anything contemporary (although I think I may try with some students), but I do use the Preparatory Melodies collection, which has a nice variety of styles and keys to keep from getting too boring. Of course, Kopprasch is still quite important (especially since the All-District and All-State etudes are still at least half Kopprasch), but a varied diet of music is also very important.

The Future

This certainly is an exciting (and sometimes frustrating) time for horn players and musicians in general.

With the vast amounts of technology available to both students and teachers, it seems like some are intentionally burying their heads in the sand – unwilling (or unable) to move forward. This is not only a detriment to their own playing and teaching, but also to their students and their profession as a whole.

For my own part, I’m going to be looking at switching things up as far as music selection over the summer and into next semester. Incorporating more commercial and contemporary styles of music (as well as Classical and Romantic), and writing out more extensive scale study exercises for my students.

Additionally, I’m researching how to lighten my load (literally) by incorporating more PDF music in lessons and with students instead of lugging around my bag full of music (which inevitably is missing the one piece I need for a student!) – look for more information about that as it develops!


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 ColinDorman.com!