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Step # 4 Motivating Practice Plans for English Horn Beginners

As you continue to practice daily, you will become more comfortable with the physical changes from oboe to English horn.  Most beginning English horn players are surprised with the added weight, the spread of fingers necessary to cover the keys, the much more relaxed embouchure, the ease of producing a beautiful vibrato, the beautiful sound in the lower register which is a fifth below the lowest sound on the oboe-low “E” on the third space of the bass clef, and the work it takes to produce a beautiful sound in the upper register.  Below are motivational ideas beginning with a daily practice plan.  In the beginning 30 minutes of practice per day works best as your embouchure endurance, hand position endurance, and your endurance in holding a heavier instrument will be challenged in your first weeks and months of practice.

# 1

Start your practice plan by inspecting your English horn as you put the instrument together to be sure everything looks normal, always play with a neck strap or cross your ankles and let the weight of the instrument rest between your ankles.  Soak your reed for five minutes.  While the reed is soaking organize your  practice plan for the day, finger through the musical selections (scales, technique exercises, large ensemble music, chamber music, and solo literature).  This allows you to focus on what your are about to practice, moves your thinking away from the other challenges of the day, and focuses your concentration on playing the English horn.

# 2

Check your reed opening and make adjustments to either open or close the reed opening.  Be sure the wire on your reed is in place (about one-third up the length of the reed).  Test your reed on your most comfortable notes and/or your most comfortable scales.  Play long tones at first followed by articulated patterns with quarter note, eighth note, and sixteenth note patterns.  When everything is set with the reed you are read to continue your practice plan for the day.

# 3

It is always good to start your practice plan with music you do not have to read.  Playing scales with a variety of rhythm patterns for interest and concentration works best.  As a beginning English horn player,  the low register scales performed one octave works best.  You are fingering and labeling the same scales you have been playing for years on the oboe, but you are hearing and sounding tones much lower than you are use to on the oboe.

# 4

A good sequence of scales to begin your practice plan include in order “G,” “F,” “Eb,” and “D.”  The “C” scale is the fifth and final scale in the sequence.  Again, play these scales one octave.  Remember that the most challenging fingering after the half-hole notes is the low “D” key. With a good low “D” fingering your low “C” will play beautifully every time.  It is good to look in the mirror at your hand position as you play the scales.  Be sure that only your fingers are moving as you play all the notes of the scales.  There should be not extra hand, arm, or elbow movement as your play the scales.  Your hand shape should mirror the shape of the letter C in the alphabet and your hand should have a pocket shape in which you could place a baseball, softball, orange, or grapefruit.  It is important that your hand shape is not flat.

# 5

As you are playing your scales, pay attention to your left hand and the shape of your ring finger.  It should be curved, not straight.  Try playing the left hand half-hole “Eb”.  For your left pinky finger to touch the left hand “Eb” key you must bend your left hand ring finger.  Eventually, you will be playing the low “B” natural key with your left pinky.  Checking in the mirror to see your  correct hand position on the English horn should be apart of your practice plan.

# 6

Be sure to stretch your fingers apart in both your left and right hands.  If notes do not sound clearly it is because your finger position is too high and fingers too close together.  From your scale patterns you want to practice the assignment by your large ensemble conductor at school.  There will be performance tests on the music you will be performing on stage.  There is a good possibility that you may have at least one solo part in at least one piece of music in your folder.  Try to memorize this solo so you can watch the conductor as you are playing your solo.

# 7

Hopefully you are taking private lessons.  Your private lesson teacher will be assigning you exercises, scales, technique excerpts, chamber music literature, and solo literature.  Your daily practice plan can vary as to the order of music you practice  and the length of time you practice each part of the plan.  Try to avoid having the same practice plan every day.  You should always be working on a solo piece. Your selected English horn solo is most likely performed on You Tube.  You can play along with the recording.  For orchestral English horn solos you an do the same thing and play along with the English horn soloist in the orchestra.

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