Horn Class with Pip Eastop

I’ve been busy again–but at least I’ve found somewhere to live, now.

On Wednesday afternoon, Pip Eastop came to do a horn class with us.

It was a bit of an unenthusiastic start, there was some orchestral music that had been set aside for working on but he didn’t really want to do that and neither did any of us, so we worked on specific issues instead.

Fluttertonguing:

I’ve always had great difficulty with this because I cannot make the ‘purr like a cat’ noise with my tongue. I’ve been trying to make this noise since I was 4 (long before I started playing horn), to no avail. I can get about 2 or 3 flips of a rolled ‘r’ in but am unable to sustain this. As some people are congenitally unable to do this I have generally claimed it is impossible for me, despite occasionally spending a few weeks attempting to do it.

Pip thinks that being able to get 2 or 3 flips of the rolled ‘r’ in means that I can do this, I’ll just have to practise it a lot more than most people would.

I’m not sure I’m convinced but I would very much like to crack this because then I can purr like a cat, so I’ll give it a try (again). The method suggested is to keep doing those rolled ‘r’ sounds until I can sustain them longer and longer, and then work on doing them with the horn.

Lip trills:

These are difficult on the horn and the only real way around them is to practise some every day, but using the tongue to switch notes instead of trying to use the embouchure is a method I’d forgotten about, and will be focusing on again for a while. My lip trills are much better than last time I tried this method.

Low-range playing:

Farkas-style point-the-air-at-the-bottom-of-the-mouthpiece stuff. Useful, in that it worked for everyone, but everyone sounded a bit crap when they didn’t _quite_ get it. My work is rather cut out for me in this department, though again my low range is much better than it once was; I think I’m most of the way there with this and will just have to do a lot of low playing for a month or two in order to make some small embouchure changes.

Hand-stopping:

I can already do this except for very low notes, so I didn’t get a whole lot out of this part of the lesson, but others present did. We went into the “actually it’s not raised a semitone, it’s lowered to about a semitone from the previous harmonic, also when you get high enough it’s just the same note” thing, and also into the thing about where if you get high enough you run out of proper harmonics and can just gliss around like on just a mouthpiece because you’re playing too high for the horn (only on the mouthpiece it’s because you’re too low) but you get an extra third or so of clear notes if you stick your hand in the bell which is one of the reasons we stick our hands in the bell. Interestingly, with the hand out of the bell you run out of notes at about the same pitch on the F side and Bflat side despite the fact that if it were relative it should be a fourth higher on the Bflat side. He couldn’t answer my question as to why this is; I suspect it has something to do with physics and the bore of the tube rather than the length of it. I also suspect it’s the sort of thing most horn players aren’t really that interested in. I should probably just learn more physics as it’s unrealistic to expect most people to be able to answer that question.
In general Pip was very encouraging, if a bit daunting, and he made it clear that the best methods to use are the ones that produce the best sound, and other indicators of what is the ‘right way’ aren’t really as valuable. This ‘whatever works’ attitude was quite refreshing.

There were also some comments about playing on mouthpiece alone and on mid-range playing that I don’t entirely agree with. Pip figures there isn’t money in making quacking noises on the mouthpiece so don’t practise it, but this contradicts his previous urging us to do whatever works – personally I find that if I play something mouthpiece-only a few times through it will be far more secure when I get it back to the horn.

He also thinks that if the very high range and very low range are good and solid, the middle range will work itself out, and it doesn’t matter so much because things are easier there anyway, so we should practise low stuff and high stuff a lot without really necessarily trying to work our way up to them. I’m not so sure about that. I can see the point he was trying to make – the middle ranges ARE easier – but I don’t think it’s a good idea to just focus on the high notes and low notes and work down from high and up from low to get the middle playable. All of my major improvements in tone in my high and low range have come from expanding it outward gradually, rather than from working really hard to get good tone in high or low range as an isolated exercise. I think that working on high and low range without doing this could work for some but it could also lead to weird embouchure habits developing due to trying to play things before the muscles have developed to deal with them.

An example of this even came up in class – another player who uses a lot of pressure in the high range and very often ends up with sore teeth. She’s using pressure because she doesn’t have the muscular strength in her embouchure to get the notes to sound that way without using the pressure. While a certain amount of pressure is a good thing, having sore teeth after playing is bad news (and eventually her teeth will MOVE which will not be nice for her playing!). I figure the way around this is a variety of strength-building exercises employed in such a way as to gradually improve tone and range. Pip didn’t suggest anything of the sort and didn’t really answer her question about how to get around using excess pressure, just went on about how not having any pressure at all isn’t really a good thing.

Again, I can see his point – playing with absolutely no pressure at all tends not to work very well as even very small movements of the horn can completely disrupt the sound – but he did ask if we had any questions and then did not answer some of them, and this was a bit disappointing.

All in all I found this a very useful class despite some differences of opinion, and I enjoyed it thoroughly as well.

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