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Continuosity.

I am normally one who advocates keeping emotion out of horn technique study. If you find yourself getting worked up over some "unexpected result" that happens while you're playing, the reason usually has to do with your ego. And this is a distraction. You think: "Oh, no! I missed a note! I am a terrible person!" [muscles tense, brow knits]. Humiliation! Frustration! Anger! Disappointment! Well, maybe not quite that dramatic, but something in that direction. Keeping emotion out of your playing enables you to take advantage of all the useful information in the mistake. You then can see clearly what happened and make your best guess as to what to do to get the result you want next time.

But sometimes it's good to recognize when an emotion appears and then harness the energy in it to generate solutions to technical problems. Confession time. What bugs me, frankly, is scales. More specifically, the traditional way of practicing scales, which is working on scales in octaves. Only octaves. One, two, or three octaves. The more the better! And we work on mostly major scales. Not so much minor or other kinds of scales. Memorize those multi-octave major scales and consider yourself proficient! You're done!

There is one more part of this tradition: you play all those scales every day. The same as you did today. Repeat them all again tomorrow. And tomorrow. And tomorrow. And arggghhh!

It's boring, and it's only one way to practice scale material, but we endure it. We (collective we, horn tradition we) are used to taking our horn routines like bitter medicine. A routine may be boring and unengaging, but we do it every day because "it's good for us." We content ourselves with feelings of virtue for having gotten through it yet one more time. Yay, me.

A second problem is that, in fact, music doesn't often look like octave scales very much. One-octave scales come up now and then. Two-octave scales--very, very seldom. Three-octave scales: never. So why is that all we ever do? It's like studying brontosaurus anatomy in veterinary school and then dealing with dogs and cats every day. There's nothing wrong with octave scales per se, but they are a very narrow preparation for musical challenges. Practicing scales only in octaves is like saying you know a city when you really only know Main Street.

What's the alternative? There are many. The biggest obstacle to trying something new is the change itself. People don't like change. Usually people only change when forced to. But trying something new can pay big dividends if you get past the attitude adjustment needed to try something new. There are many (many!) ways to practice scales. We will have a look at one of them: continuous scale work, affectionately known as "continuosity."

Traditional scale work consists of playing that well-worn memorized path up the scale and down the scale. Continuosity adds the elements of variety, play, and experimentation. "Play" here means that we are not following a pre-set path of notes. It means that we make the decision about what note to play next. It is experimentation because in an experiment you try something and then survey the results. And then make another experiment based on what you learned from what just happened. In science, this process is rather slow and deliberate. In playing the horn the process happens quickly, and the more you do it, the faster it goes. In traditional scale practice, the task is to keep your mind on the boring task of rote recitation. In Continuosity, you will be fully alert and engaged because you are the one picking the notes and you don't decide which one until a split second before you play it.

Continuosity as a process (or game) goes like this:

* Start on middle C. Use the notes of (say) the C major scale.

* With a metronome (or other rhythm/pulse source) going, play one quarter note at a moderate tempo per beat.

* Play a different note (tongued, slurred, or mixed articulation) on every beat. No repeated notes.

* You may only choose the note adjacent to the note you are currently playing.

Piece of cake. From middle C you may only go down to B or up to D. If you chose D, you may either go up to E or back to C. Make your choices as you go along, either up or down. When you stop to take a breath, you may start anew some distance away if you like. Continue. You will find this very, very easy in C major at this tempo. That's good. Gradually work your way up and down to low and then high ranges. Take breaks (anywhere from a second to a minute) along the way so that your lip doesn't get too tired too soon.

You can build scales of any/every length this way. Music has scales of all different lengths, and thus with Continuosity you will be learning your scales in every possible length, ascending and descending, from every note, in all registers, all articulations. Your knowledge of a scale will be much deeper than before because you will become familiar with a large variety of ways to move through the scale material. After some practice in this, you will be able to start on any scale step, go slow or fast up or down, or turn around at any point and not get lost. You will learn to "think in scales," which is very different from the rote memorization of one scale form only. At some point switch to eighth notes to increase the speed at which you must make decisions. Repeat all. When you're ready, switch to 16th notes. Repeat all.

If some fingering combinations are clumsier than others, spend more time with those.

That is just one key. Now repeat the whole process in all other keys. Take your time. Note how some keys are less familiar than others. Stay in those keys longer. You gauge your level of development by how you do on your least familiar scales. If you are like most carbon-based life forms, these will be keys like B, A[flat], F#, D[flat], etc. So, again, spend more time in the keys that need it the most. Your goal is to be able to move through all keys with approximately the same level of familiarity and fluency.

You get the idea. Keep ratcheting up the challenge while you make sure that no key is substantially less familiar than any other.

Note: Feel free to switch tempo gears whenever necessary. If you can't keep up the pace, or some keys need to be worked on at a slower tempo, gear down immediately and stay there for a while until everything works. If everything is smooth and easy for a while, gear up a smidgeon, find that borderline of can/can't do it. Go ahead and bump the edge of the possible to find out where it is, but spend almost all your time just under the line so that you have success upon success. Stay relaxed.

Suggestion: this takes a lot of concentration, so take breaks both for your chops and for your head.

Got it? Everything going well?

News: You're not done. You're just beginning.

Let's assume that by now you now can cook right along with brisk 8th or even 16th notes in all major keys, playing scales of any length, in any register, no problem. It's time to start adding additional challenges. Here are a few:

* Arpeggios. Change the game (and slow down for a while) to moving between adjacent major arpeggio notes. Start with the triad (1 3 5). Then go to chord extensions: 1 3 5 7, 1 3 5 7 9. For the insufficiently challenged, work on the triads and extensions that can be built on every scale step. Example of this for C major triads: C E G, D F A, E G A, F A C, etc.

At first move only to the next adjacent arpeggio tone. Later, invert and otherwise rearrange the notes of the triad or extended chord; now you are getting practice leaping between nonadjacent notes (just like in real music!). Example (with a basic triad): 1 3 5, try 1 5 3, 3 1 5, 3 5 1, 5 3 1, 5 1 3.

* Intervals: now try moving by thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, sevenths, or octaves. Build them all from every diatonic step. These are going to be slower than diatonic scale steps, needless to say.

* Patterns. Patterns are short motives that move up or down sequentially and diatonically, like 1231, 2342, 3453 and so on. Kopprasch (as with many etude books) is full of patterns like this. Patterns come up in music all the time. Steal patterns from Mr. K and others or from your current solo or excerpt or make up your own.

* Combinations. Although you may spend a lot of time focusing on one type of movement (steps, leaps, patterns), you should (sooner rather than later) take some time to mix them at will. Go up as a scale, come down as an arpeggio. Start in one pattern and then morph it into another pattern. Play a wide interval, then connect the two notes with a scale or an arpeggio or a little bit of both.

* Chromatic decoration. Now and then connect or decorate diatonic scale notes or arpeggio notes with chromatic notes approach or passing tones.

* Chord changes. Thus far you have spent time in one key for a while doing continuous scales, then switching to another key. Try deciding on a progression of chords (start with just two chords, back and forth) and change keys more frequently and regularly. Example: switch chords and/or keys every 8 measures. Then 4. Then 2. Then 1. Goal: be able change very quickly to another key while playing nonstop notes. Later, make the number of chords gradually bigger: 2 chords, 3, 4, and more.

* Rhythms. Although the main idea is to explore scale material in many ways using a continuous stream of notes, we can add interest to the method by changing the single note value to a rhythmic pattern (e.g., long-short-short, long-short). Or add rests.

* Accents. More spice to the continuous stream of notes: add either regular or irregular (or some of each) accents to the stream.

* Loops. Any time something doesn't quite work (missed note, hesitation), loop the spot in question.

* Random scale movement. If you are really fluent, ratchet up the challenge another quantum leap by not only playing a different pitch every beat, but don't play the same interval between notes twice in a row. Example: C D G B F E A C E B

OK, you say, that's a lot. Are we done?

You probably know what's coming: Nope. So far all that has just been major scales. There are lots of other scale types. For instance, all the minors (e.g., natural minor, harmonic minor, melodic minor, blues scale), the modes (Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian [dominant 7th], etc), pentatonic scales, whole tone, and many other kinds of scales.

Will this take a good while to get through? You betcha.

This is Technique for Life. There will always be something interesting to work on, to enrich you as a musician. Take your time. Be patient and thorough. But have fun as you go along. The good news is that you will never be bored with scales again!

Jeffrey Agrell is horn professor at the University of Iowa. jeffreyagrell@uiowa.edu
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Title Annotation:Technique Tips
Author:Agrell, Jeffrey
Publication:The Horn Call
Date:Oct 1, 2015
Words:1929
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