by Dr. Nicholas Kenney
Many students have come to lessons unprepared in the past. I have, you probably have, and your friends probably have too. Here are three steps you can take to make sure you are as prepared as you can be for your regularly scheduled lesson. These three steps are catered towards preparing you both for immediate success – having successful, meaningful weekly lessons – and for success as you aspire to be the best hornist you can be.
- Notes and Rhythms - The first thing you should do is learn all notes and rhythms that are assigned to you. Better yet, apply the use of a metronome with it. If your teacher assigns two etudes, two scales, and a solo piece for your next lesson, you should walk in to the lesson with at least all of the notes and rhythms down. The point of the lesson is not for you to fumble through fingerings, key signatures, or time signatures. A great deal of pedagogical technique is built around the idea that one shouldn’t stress about “hitting the notes.” I know that my own teacher was a huge advocate for just playing a phrase musically – If you miss a note, so be it. This concept should not be confused with learning the notes, fingerings, and rhythms. What this idea does is teaches the player to keep their air moving and to keep the momentum going while playing through a phrase, etude, or an entire piece of music. Do not mistake it with simply being able to mash the correct buttons at the appropriate time. In order to better prepare yourself to do both of these things effectively, assign the muscle memory correctly from the very beginning by doing it slowly and speeding up gradually to the assigned tempo (I KNOW your teacher wrote a required tempo marking in there!). As you progress as a horn player and musician, this step will become much less tedious, but getting started can be frustrating. Do it the right way from the beginning!
- Interpretation - Once you have the notes and rhythms down, and at the appropriate tempi, you can begin to make musical decisions regarding the material. If there are recordings, listen to them. Decide what you like and don't like, and try to apply it to the pieces. If it is just an etude, try to make the simplistic study more than that – turn it in to music. Right or wrong, make a choice, take it to the lesson, and let your teacher guide you from there. In addition to recordings, I have found that often times the best way make musical decisions is to take the composer’s directions as literal as possible. This is especially helpful when learning 20th century music, but can be very tricky when dealing with terrible editions of pieces such as the Mozart concerti. Nevertheless, it is ok to have what your teacher see’s as a bad interpretation of something in your lesson. It will give the two of you a starting point for discussion about the piece or style that you are working on, and you may even come to the conclusion that the way you want to do it is a better way to do it. After all, great teachers constantly learn from the multitude of ideas their students bring through the door each day.
- Application - Along with applying musical decisions you have made to the pieces, try to apply whatever concepts you and your teacher have been working on in the past. I sort of alluded to one concept in the “Notes and Rhythms” section of the piece. The idea that one should keep the air/momentum moving through a phrase regardless of missed of chipped notes. This is a perfect example of an application that you can put into your practice sessions daily, especially if done as noted above. Of course there are a great deal of different concepts and ideas that the two of you will spend time on. Try seeing those concepts in the bigger picture and applying it to the different things that are assigned. Nothing makes a teacher more excited than when a student tries to continue working on ideas (ON THEIR OWN) from week to week, month to month, semester to semester, etc.
In summary, the most basic thing you should always walk in to a lesson having done is learned the notes and rhythms. If you don't get to steps two and three, then those are things that your teacher will gladly help you with. As you continue to progress as a student, and/or work on the same literature from week to week, steps two and three should become more of a part of your weekly preparation. Using a practice log and or making notes during lessons/during practice sessions can help you to organize your practice sessions from day to day and week to week. I still have a box full of old practice logs from college, and they really did help me to organize what I was trying to accomplish, both on a day-to-day basis and in the long run. As a student that is living in the here and now, it is very difficult, sometimes, to see the big picture with regards to your horn lessons. Know that your horn teacher’s actions, comments, hints, etc. are all part of a bigger plan for your career as a hornist. By applying these three steps to your daily preparation, not only will your regularly scheduled lessons be far more productive, but I also believe that the big picture your teacher has for you will be more visible, sooner.
Dr. Nicholas Kenney enjoys an active and diverse career as a performer and teacher. Currently, Dr. Kenney is the Director of Instrumental activities at Cresset Christian Academy’s Institute for the Arts in Durham, North Carolina and has a private studio of young aspiring musicians from throughout the Triad area of North Carolina.