The Millenium Kopprasch Series

I’m always in the market for a new etude book, so I recently ordered the new Kopprasch books compiled by Jeffrey Agrell. Most of the horn world should know Agrell from his “Creative Hornist” articles that were regularly published in The Horn Call for many years. These new books by Agrell aren’t just another edition of the same etudes, but rather a reimagining of the original material. If you’re a horn player, then you own the original 60 Selected Studies (Low Horn), Op. 6 by Kopprasch. It’s a book that all players use, even other brass instruments, to develop technique, flexibility, and endurance. I started working on these etudes during undergrad, and I still use these etudes in my own practice to this day. Still, we all get tired of working on the same things, so it’s nice to have a new way to practice Kopprasch.

Currently, there are three books in the Millenium Kopprasch SeriesPreparatory KoppraschRhythm Kopprasch – Vol. 1, and Harmony Kopprasch – Vol. 1. Agrell describes his process as follows: “What we do in the Millenium Kopprasch Series is to take something familiar and stretch it, that is, we take Kopprasch’s etudes and dramatically extend them in various ways (through this series) so that the millenium musician acquires the depth and breadth they need to survive and thrive almost two hundred years after those first original etudes were written.”

After spending some time with each of the books, I can honestly say that I really like them. The Preparatory etudes are fairly simple and should be easy for the seasoned player, but I think that they will be perfect for younger students. These are a great way to introduce high school students to Kopprasch, and I have already started using them with a few of my private students. I’m even planning on using them with some of my college students. I think it will work well to pair each of the Preparatory etudes with its corresponding Kopprasch etude. With the Preparatory etudes being so accessible, I feel that working through them first will give students the confidence to tackle the original Kopprasch etudes.

I really enjoy the other two books, Harmony and Rhythm, and they definitely add a new level of difficulty to the whole process of working through Kopprasch, especially for those of us that have been using Kopprasch for years. The Harmony book is challenging, because each etude modulates through several different keys. Plus, Agrell utilizes more than just the basic major and minor modes. In the first etude, the progression is as follows: C harmonic minor, G Phrygian, Ab natural minor, Eb Dorian, D7, F Whole tone, E Whole tone, C Spanish Phrygian, Db Lydian, Gb Major, G Diminished. The etudes themselves are basically the same, except for the new harmonic framework. I can honestly say that it has been fun working through these new etudes. This may sound odd, but the hardest thing for me has been the accidentals and remembering which ones carry through the measure.

The Rhythm book is great, but it is difficult. I can play through the Harmony book without too much thought or practice, but the Rhythm etudes are going to require some woodshedding. It contains lots of syncopation, odd meters (3/16, 5/16, 7/16, etc.), lots of meter changes, odd tuplets, etc. I’m enjoying the challenge that these new etudes present, but I would be careful not to assign many of these to younger students. The Rhythm book seems more suitable for advanced undergrad, graduate, or professional players. I’m only trying to point out the fact that some students may become very discouraged while trying to learn some of the Rhythm etudes, so just be mindful when assigning them to students. Select some of the easier ones first, like K6 or K10, and work from there. I remember my teachers doing the same with the Reynolds 48 Etudes. They would assign some of the more straightforward and melodic etudes first to build confidence, and then ease students into the more technical and mentally challenging ones.

These new books by Agrell definitely won’t replace the original, but they are wonderful companion texts. He plans to release more volumes over the next few years, so horn players should be excited. I’m definitely excited, because these books will not only change the way that I practice Kopprasch, but they are also going to revolutionize the way that I teach it. As I mentioned previously, I’ve already started utilizing the Preparatory Kopprasch with my younger students, and I can’t wait to start using the Harmony and Rhythm books with my older students.

I’ve been telling everyone to buy these books, because they are very affordable at $7-$10 for the paperback version. The only thing that I don’t like about the paper version is the binding. The books are high quality, but the binding makes it difficult to keep open on the stand. It’s going to take a lot of breaking in…or I may just take it somewhere and have them put spiral binding on it.

All of Agrell’s recent publications are available for purchase through Amazon and they are all eligible for Prime shipping. The great thing is that many of his books are available for free if you have Kindle Unlimited. I believe the only etude book not available for free is the Harmony book. I myself like to have a tangible copy, but I know that many people are switching over to paperless, and a lot of musicians are now storing their entire music libraries on tablets. I will probably do this eventually, but I don’t think I will ever get rid of my books. There’s just something about reading the notes or words from an actual page. Either way, there’s no excuse. If you’re a reading this and are a horn player, then you should own these books and keep your eye out for the next volumes.

Horn Matters on Anxiety

Everyone in the horn world knows the Horn Matters site, and if you don’t, you need to check it out now. Dr. John Ericson of Arizona State University and Bruce Hembd, do an awesome job, and there is just so much wonderful information on the site that you could spend days sifting through it all. I’ve spent a lot of time on Horn Matters, and for a period of time, I visited this site every day in order to stay up to date on everything horn. When I began my battle with depression a few years ago, I stopped, because it just made me feel even worse. I know that I’ve missed out on some great articles over the past few years, so I decided to see what Horn Matters has had to say on performance anxiety. Ericson and Hembd have written so many articles over the years that I’m sure I’ll miss something, but here is a quick overview of some of the articles dealing with anxiety:

“Annie Bosler on Dealing with Nerves and Performance Anxiety”

This is a video that I have yet to watch, so it’s now on my list. Ericson doesn’t give too much information about the video, but mentions that it is definitely worth checking out. He also briefly talks about another video on YouTube that features an expert in the area of performance anxiety, Dinka Migic Vlatkovic. He is a therapist and mental coach who was interviewed by the great Sarah Willis during one of her Horn Hangouts. Yet another video to add to the list.

“Beta Blockers or The Inner Game

For some reason, I have never read The Inner Game of Tennis, by W. Timothy Gallwey . I have read The Inner Game of Music, but I just never went back to read the original. However, I plan on reading it this time around, and I will definitely devote a post to talking about said book. This post on Horn Matters brings up an interesting question: Should one use beta blockers to help ease anxiety when performing?

Ericson’s stance is quite clear on this issue. He encourages his students to try the concepts put forth in Gallwey’s book, and I definitely agree. I think it is very important to be able to gain the level of focus needed to play at a high level under pressure. On the flip side, I feel that some people, including myself, suffer from a different kind or level of anxiety that only medicine can subdue. Beta blockers by themselves won’t help you to play flawlessly, but I do believe that a combination of medication and focusing techniques could help most people suffering from performance anxiety come closer to reaching their full potential.

On a personal note, I have used beta blockers in the past. I liked how the medication took the edge off, but I still had to be able to play at a high level, which meant that I still needed to be able to focus and block out distractions. This is something that I have always struggled with, even with the aid of medication, so I would highly recommend checking out The Inner Game of Tennis or any other book/exercises that aid in clearing and focusing one’s mind.

As Ericson states in his article, consult with a doctor before taking any medication.

“Confidence and Final Audition Preparation”

I think that confidence is something that every performer needs in order to perform well. If you are not confident in your abilities, then you will never achieve the type of success you desire. I also believe that one of the best ways to gain confidence is through preparation. If you prepare to the best of your abilities, then there is no shame in what happens. I like this quote from Ericson:

“For me, careful preparation and knowing I have plenty of chops helps a great deal                 in relation to confidence and nerves.”

This is so true, because, for a brass player, if you have these two things, then everything should go as planned. It’s simple, but I think most of us tend to “overthink” when under pressure. Sometimes, you just need to stop thinking and trust the process.

“Onstage Relaxation Techniques”

A short article by Bruce Hembd that shares some of his tips for easing tension while performing. A couple of these you should probably only do if you’re playing in the orchestra pit, but you might be able to hide some of these if playing on stage. I can attest to the importance of breathing and utilizing controlled breathing exercises during rests. We often get very tense or begin to breath in a shallow manner if we are under stress, so doing some deep breathing during rests should help to relieve that tension.

“A Few Thoughts About Performance Anxiety”

Through reading many of his articles on anxiety, it is very apparent that Dr. Ericson has never had many issues with performance anxiety, which he states in this article. For him, preparation and learning how to focus under pressure has served him well. All people are affected by anxiety differently and normally deal with or handle it in different ways. Ericson states that there are different types of anxiety that can be roughly grouped into four categories: Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety, Specific Phobias, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

He also gives this wonderful bit of advice:

“If your underlying world view is different than that of the book or if advice focuses on         dealing with a type of anxiety that you don’t really experience you may need to look to           different resources.

I suffer from both General Anxiety and Social Anxiety, so I am aware of how these two disorders can affect one’s performance. Honestly, I don’t think outside distractions matter for me as much as my thoughts of self-doubt. It’s what happens in my mind that wreaks the most havoc. Instead of visibly showing how the situation is affecting me, I normally internalize things. I may look normal on the outside, but my mind is running circles on the inside. This is why I tend to focus more on altering my mindset, rather than physical strategies. For others, physical triggers are the problem, which is the reason why it is so important to understand your disorder.

There is so much advice out there, but not all techniques will work for every individual. We are all different people, and as Ericson states, we all feel or experience anxiety differently, so some of us will cope with our feelings in different ways. I think it is wonderful that we have access to so much knowledge, so it is inevitable that each of us will find something useful.

“Confidence, Optimism, Fearlessness, and Trusting Yourself”

Ericson did a survey on Twitter asking horn players to pick a word or mindset that best describes themselves and what they’re thinking when performing at a peak level. The four mindsets are in the title and Confidence and Trusting Yourself gained the most votes in the survey. Ericson mentions in the article that these words probably mean different things to different people, and he is correct in my case. Fearlessness does not have a strong connection with me, because I’m never truly without some form of fear. I’ve just learned how to cope with it. Optimism does not resonate with me as much either, because I’m not a very optimistic person; however, I do feel that it is important to be positive and enjoy your performance rather than dreading it and wanting it to be over.

Confidence is definitely a feeling or mindset that I need in order to perform well. When I feel confident, I don’t worry about messing up. The inside chatter isn’t as much of a problem, and I’m able to focus more completely. Trusting Yourself also falls into the same category, because if I’m playing confidently, then I will trust myself and my abilities, which will inevitably lead to a good performance.

“Deeper Insights 2: Anxiety”

In this article, Ericson gets personal and discusses life lessons learned from raising his son, who has Down syndrome and Autism. First off, having two young children myself, I know how difficult it is to balance personal and professional life, especially when involved in such a demanding field as music. Being able to balance the practice time, teaching schedule, and performance schedule is rough. Also, being an Elementary music teacher and having contact with special needs children on a regular basis, I know how delicate and demanding things can get. Kudos to Ericson for being such a consummate professional, while also being there for his family.

Ericson talks about the severe anxiety that his son experiences when things don’t go as planned, which I can relate to on a lesser level. For my anxiety, it is best when things go as planned. The few orchestral auditions that involved some sort of travel mishap always ended badly. I’d get there late, my nerves already frazzled, and things would spiral even further out of control once I went in to play.

Don’t overlook something as simple as keeping a regular routine leading up to a performance or audition. It could be the difference between success and failure.

“Deeper Insights 3: Fearless Optimism”

Again, I just don’t like the use of the term “fearless” (or “fearlessness” for that matter). There’s nothing against anyone that uses the term, but it just doesn’t resonate with me. I would rather focus on being positive, which is really what Ericson is getting at. I love this quote:

“Honestly, I think you might be better off cultivating optimism and faith in your life than fearlessness.”

It’s all about mindset and having the correct approach to everything that one does. Don’t worry about what happens to other people, because you can’t control their lives. You can only control your own life, so it is your obligation to do what is needed to succeed. If you’re doing everything right and things still don’t work out, then maybe you’re not in the right situation yet. Things have a way of working out for the best, but don’t be afraid to adapt and change your perspective as needed.

“They Think You Are Nervous”

If your chops are stiff during a performance or audition, then your response is going to suffer. We’ve all been there and have had to deal with it, but non-brass players don’t realize that it’s just a side-effect of playing too much. Sometimes, they might get the impression that the player is having issues, because they are nervous. This misconception is understandable, because both circumstances affect response, but brass players can normally tell the difference.

In my own experience, I will sometimes become more anxious and nervous if I suffer from response issues during a performance. Even if it isn’t related to my anxiety, it’s still a mental issue. I have to remind myself that everything is fine, but that I might not be as accurate as I would like. When I was a young undergrad, I would often struggle with issues similar to this, but as I grew as a musician, I was mentally able to deal with these circumstances. Unfortunately, as I have been battling severe anxiety issues during the past few years, this type of inner struggle has occurred more often. I honestly don’t really have a cure for it, but you just have to keep working at it. As long as you practice and continue to improve all aspects of your playing, the situation will get better. With more confidence in oneself, comes greater control over one’s feelings(anxiety).

“Anxious? A Couple of Books to Read”

The Inner Game of Tennis by Gallwey and Performance Success by Don Greene are two books that are essential reads for any serious musician. As I’m writing this, I just downloaded the Inner Game, because I’m a little ashamed that I have never read it. I read Performance Success during my doctoral studies, and I used the training log as I prepared for an audition with the Buffalo Phil. I didn’t win the audition, but I came away from that experience as a much better player.

“Nerves and Bananas?”

Another post that discusses the use of beta blockers and some other natural alternatives. Ericson also shares a link to a very informative article concerning the use of beta blockers amongst musicians: Beta Blockers and Performance Anxiety in Musicians. I have taken beta blockers in the past, and I will probably experiment with them again. I don’t feel that they enhance one’s abilities, but rather make it possible for those of us that suffer from severe anxiety to perform at our full potential. It’s not a performance enhancing drug.

I have used bananas before with limited success, but Ericson also mentions that dairy products and turkey may also be beneficial. In my experience, I have also tried drinking low sodium Gatorade before many of my performances. It has a lot of potassium, and the electrolytes help to give a little bit more energy. I had a lot of success with this strategy, but you have to make sure that you get the low sodium version, otherwise you might get too much sodium in your system, which could dry you out.

“The Dilemma of Performance Paranoia”

“Play by sound. not by feel.”

This article by Bruce Hembd discusses that wonderful moment that all brass players dread. The moment when we realize that our chops feel pretty stiff, but the show must go on, for better or for worse. For the seasoned player, this is nothing new, but for a younger player, or even someone with serious anxiety issues, it can be very traumatic. It’s second nature for brass players to play by feel, because inevitably this is how we learn to play. Usually, if what we play on our instrument sounds good, then it is going to feel good, or rather, feel like we are playing efficiently.

Playing on tired chops is not efficient, and it feels like a constant struggle. You’re having to work extra hard to sound good, which is going to have a negative effect on your psyche…unless, you don’t give in. The quote above is something that has helped Bruce get through difficult performances, and this concept is also what helped me to overcome my playing issues. Hembd doesn’t give the name of the teacher that supplied this quote to him, but I know that I myself have heard this line from many different people throughout my career. It’s something so simple, yet extremely difficult for brass players. It goes against all of our instincts to not pay attention to how our chops feel. However, it makes sense, because if you just focus on the sound, you get your mind out of they way and allow your chops to do the work. We’ve all worked hard and logged countless hours in the practice room, so just go for it. It may not be perfect, but allowing those thoughts of self-doubt take over will be much worse.

If it sounds good, then don’t try to dissect it. Don’t try to figure out what you did differently, because you didn’t actually do anything different. You were finally able to trust yourself, which is something that most people with anxiety are unable to do. Most people with severe anxiety don’t even like themselves, let alone possess the ability to trust themselves. I was finally able to get to this point, but it took countless hours of practice and a number of really good experiences for me to finally feel comfortable.

Professional players still have bad days, but they just know how to cope and forget about their mistakes. They don’t listen to their inner chatter, which is very difficult for people with anxiety. It takes a ridiculous work ethic, acceptance of a more positive mindset, and putting yourself in difficult situations and working through it. Not an easy task for people that normally shy away from adversity, but necessary to finally overcome those demons.

“Quote of the Week – Farkas on Stagefright”

This particular article, written by Ericson, attacks anxiety from a religious perspective. A religious approach doesn’t work for everyone, because not all people are very religious and some may not even believe in a higher power. Having faith, no matter the religion, can be difficult for people with anxiety, because it is difficult for us to stop worrying and believe that everything is going to be fine. We not only need tangible evidence that the issue is going to be resolved, but we also need it to happen right now, because we can’t stop thinking about it. When anxious people worry about something, it will not only affect their quality of life, but can also be detrimental to relationships, job performance, and other similar aspects of life.

I’m not trying to say that faith isn’t helpful, nor am I trying to sound negative towards religion; however, I am trying to make the point that just praying and then waiting for something to happen or for a problem to fix itself is not ideal. It’s good to have faith and to believe in a higher power, but you have to log the work and effort needed to attain your goals. You won’t become a “fearless” player overnight just by praying for it to happen. It takes a lot of hard work, and you have to be willing to fail. Failing isn’t the end, but rather a beginning. Giving up is the end.

In the case of Farkas, he used his faith to remind himself that he was in this position for a reason. The circumstances that led him to becoming the Principal Horn of the Chicago Symphony were not by luck or happenstance. He was there because he worked very hard, and he believed that God put him in the right place at the right time. Farkas had faith that he was put in this position for a reason, and therefore he didn’t need to worry or be nervous.

The text that Ericson discusses in this article is from the book, The Art of Musicianship, which is one of a few books that Farkas wrote. This one in particular isn’t just for horn players, but is meant for all musicians. The following quote speaks to the wisdom and confidence of Farkas:

“So it wasn’t just a series of unrelated, random events which eventually put me on stage. It was a series of incredibly interwoven and predestined events which put me there…I was there because I had been led there by an amazing chain of events, not just mere coincidence, and, because I had been led there, certainly I could do the work assigned to me, and failure was not a part of the plan.”

We are all musicians for a reason, and those of us that have become professionals, have gotten this far because we have earned it. Sometimes, we just need a reminder that we are worthy. Farkas had strong faith in God, and he was very wise to use this to his advantage. Ericson mentions in the article that Farkas would often read a certain scripture before performing:

“The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me…”

This text is taken from Psalm 138:8. Many performers will utilize text, certain words, and even visualization or pictures to get them in the right mindset before a performance. There are countless options out there, but I will give just one bit of advice. Whatever you choose as your “centering” device, it needs to be something that has true meaning to you as an individual. This is why the text that Farkas utilizes is so helpful, because he is very strong in his faith, and this text has a very profound and deep meaning to him. His text may work for you, but don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t. Find something that is meaningful to you, whether it be religious or not, and try it out.

Conclusion

Horn Matters is a wonderful resource, and as I mentioned previously, if you’ve never visited the site, then you need to right now. Here’s the link: Horn Matters. There is a wealth of information available on the site, and I know that I might not have been able to find every article written about anxiety. These are the ones that seemed pertinent to my research. In writing this post, I’m not in any way trying to imply that Ericson nor Hembd did an insufficient job in their presentation of the material. As a person that suffers from severe anxiety, I’m merely trying to add my unique perspective. I think that those guys do an amazing job, and I hope that one day I can be on the same level as them.

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on “Student” Horns

When I was a young student, I didn’t have a lot of guidance in terms of proper instrument selection. My first horn was a Yamaha (double), but I’m not sure of the model. Remember, horn was not my first instrument, so I didn’t start playing until high school. However, I quickly fell in love with the instrument and decided to buy my own. I couldn’t afford a brand new instrument, or a nice used instrument either. Someone recommended a Conn 6D, and it just so happened that I found one for sale, so I bought it. It was old, probably from the early Abilene era, definitely not an Elkhart, but it played fine. It served me well until I was in undergrad, and then I used a few different school horns: Holton 179, Yamaha 667, and 668. These horns were serviceable, but I really didn’t like them, especially the Yamahas. It’s funny now, because I have come to really enjoy playing Yamahas, but I hated them back then. Maybe it was my naivety, but it was probably because I just wasn’t a very good player at the time.

When I decided to pursue graduate degrees on horn, my teacher recommended a Conn 8D, specifically an Elkhart model, which is what I found. I played that E-series horn throughout my masters degree and most of my doctoral studies. I was comfortable playing a Kruspe-style horn, and the one experience that I had with a Geyer-style horn wasn’t very memorable (that 667), so I stuck with the Kruspe. Fortunately, I overcame my prejudice against Geyer-style horns, and I have tried many different types of horns over the past few years. I have even owned several different types of horns myself: Yamaha Triple, Yamaha 871, Schmidt, Knopf, Hoyer 801, King Fidelio. All of the horns that I have owned possess unique/distinctive qualities, and I know that good players can make any type of horn sound great, but I have come to prefer playing on Geyer-style instruments most of all. These instruments not only suit my style of playing, but they also allow me to obtain the sound profile that I want.

For my students, I try not to influence them towards purchasing a particular type of horn, but it’s difficult when our industry, mainly the orchestral realm, is becoming almost Geyer exclusive. Back in the early to mid part of the twentieth century, Kruspe-style horns reigned supreme, and everyone wanted a Conn 8D or something similar. Due to various reasons, this preference has changed, and I make sure that my students understand this. If you want to play in an orchestra, you have to fit in with the sound. Of course, this doesn’t override my true philosophy on picking the correct horn. It’s not about the style of horn or the cost, it’s about choosing the right horn for a particular student, because we are all different. I’ve had many students that hate playing on Geyers, and vice versa. First, you need to pick a horn that is well-made. Then, you just need to choose the one that feels right and helps you to play your best.

With that said, I do have some recommendations for people out there looking for a quality buy. Most of us, including myself, can’t afford a $10,000 horn, so here is the list of horns that I will normally tell people to look at first. These horns aren’t true professional/custom made horns, but they are quality instruments suitable for any student or amatuer at any skill level.

Yamaha: Especially with the introduction of the new 671 model, my go-to recommendation is typically going to be a Yamaha. The 671 is very responsive, free blowing, and extremely easy to play. I like how it feels in the high range, and it is also pretty open in the mid-low range as well. The only downside with the 671 is that it is becoming difficult to find in stock due to its popularity. It’s also nearly impossible to find one used, so one will have to buy it new, which could push this option out of the price range of most students ($4600-$4800).

As an alternative, I will tell students to find a good used 667. There are many used 667s on the market now, but they are still quality horns, especially with the lacquer stripped. It’s common knowledge that Yamaha lacquer is super thick, and after stripping a couple of Yamaha horns myself, I have noticed that the playing characteristic are greatly enhanced after taking off the lacquer. Just the difference in resonance and sound quality alone makes it worth the effort. The 667V (a custom option) is also a great horn, but only worth it if you can find it used for less than $4000. If not, I would stick with the 671. In my opinion, the 671 plays even better than the 871, a custom model. Siegfried’s Call offers a customized version of the 671 that I really love.

The 668 is also a great option, if you want a Kruspe-style horn. The quality of craftsmanship puts it above a Holton and even a Conn 8D, but I don’t know if it plays better than the Hoyer Kruspe-style horns. Either way, it’s a very good horn.

Hans Hoyer: I like Hoyers a lot, and I think that they are well built horns. At present, my main horn is a Hoyer 801. The valves are fast and mechanical, and I really like the sound that the 801 produces. The downside is that it is compact, and the 801 is not as free-blowing as other Geyer-style horns. You really have to focus the air in the high range, and it will push back if you try use too much air. It has served me well the past year, because it is very responsive and produces the sound that I desire, but I do feel that I need a more free-blowing horn now that I’m back to playing at close to full strength. That being said, I still believe that the 801 is a great horn. It’s good for students, and it’s a really good option for chamber music. If you regularly play in a large ensemble, it might fight against you when playing at loud dynamics.

The G10 is the premier Geyer-style horn of the Hoyer line, and many professionals use this horn as their primary instrument. Siegfried’s Call even offers an “in-house” customized version of the G10, which is really nice. My first experience with the G10 came back in 2010. One of the undergrads at WVU had a G10, and I really loved how it played. The mid-range was stuffy on the F side, but felt great on the Bb side. Fast-forward a few years and I just haven’t been very impressed with the G10 since then. I’ve tried at least one at every single Southeast Workshop since 2013, and I just haven’t enjoyed the feel of the instrument. It sounds fine, but it just isn’t fun or easy to play. At the 2018 SEHW, I actually preferred the 801 models over the G10. Please, don’t think that the G10 is a bad instrument just because I don’t like it anymore. Try it and judge for yourself, but I know that it isn’t the best horn for me at the moment.

Hoyer also makes some fine Kruspe model horns, the 6801 and the 7801. You can get them in either brass or nickel silver. I’ve tried several different Kruspe Hoyers, and they are really good horns. A couple that I tried were even modified by Patterson, which greatly enhanced the already good playing characteristics. To be honest, if you want a Kruspe-style horn, I would go with a Hoyer or Yamaha. Coming from someone that played an Elkhart 8D, even though I loved it, they aren’t the best horns. I also don’t really like the new 8Ds, not even the V8D, which leads to the next maker…

Conn: As much as it pains me to say it, I just don’t really like Conn horns anymore. What used to be the gold standard of American horn makers is now falling quickly behind the competition. If you can find an Elkhart 8D for a decent price, under $3000, then go for it, otherwise, stay away from 8Ds. In general, they’re serviceable, but I feel like they have more problems than not nowadays. The valves are sluggish, and depending on the player, the tone is a little too dark compared to today’s standards. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still like to have my old 8D back, but not as my everyday horn.

I also haven’t enjoyed many 11Ds that I have played recently. The horn feels a lot like the newer G10s. There is something off about them, but I just can’t figure out exactly what’s wrong. The high range doesn’t speak well and takes more effort to play than I prefer. I’m not saying that it’s bad, but if I don’t enjoy playing a particular brand of horn, I’m not going to waste my time. You might be able to find some nice customized 11Ds, but the price point increases. In general, I would look elsewhere, unless the deal is too good to refuse.

So, what does Conn have going for it? A few things, but in terms of horns for students or amateurs, I would look for a 10D. These are economical horns, and they play surprisingly well. You can find used 10Ds for under $2000, and Siegfried’s Call has started customizing 10Ds, which makes them even more appealing. The stock 10D does have its limitations, but it’s easy play (a little stuffy in the mid-range) and sounds really good for the money.

Holton: Don’t even think about it, unless you’re buying a descant, or can find one of the elusive Tuckwell 105 models. These horns will play well for a while and then start falling apart after a few years. Holtons tend to have lots of problems, don’t sound all that great in terms of depth, and do not hold their value at all. Don’t take one unless someone gives it to you.

King: A lot of people have forgotten about King horns, especially since they aren’t in production anymore. However, one can find a plethora of Kings on the used horn market. I’ve come across many Kings over the years, but there are three models that you should keep an eye out for: Schmidt, Eroica, and Fidelio. Even the older Kings hold up pretty well due to the robust build quality. The Schmidts are old, but most of the ones that I’ve seen are in pretty nice condition and play very well. Even if you have to restore it, the investment is worth it. You’ll find more Eroicas than anything, which is fine, because they’re really good horns, especially if you can find one from the McCracken era. They’re similar to an 8D in playing characteristics and feel, but at half the cost. Most that I’ve seen are less than $2000, and some can even be found for less than $1000.

In my opinion, the crown jewel of the King line is the Fidelio. It’s a Kruspe-style horn with a medium-sized bell. The Fidelio is very responsive and really easy to play. I wouldn’t even mind having one for myself as a backup, or change-of-pace horn. On both Fidelios that I’ve tried, the high range is super easy, and the mid and low ranges are just as full as on the Eroica. Very even and full throughout the range. I found one for a student a couple of years back for about $1100, and it easily plays just as well, if not better than the Yamaha 671. An excellent choice for the price.

Jupiter, Accent, Eastman, Amati, and other stencil brands: In general, these are decent horns for middle school and/or early high school. Not bad horns for getting used to playing on a double, but don’t think that they’re going to last forever. Buying one of these horns new would be a waste of money.

Briz: We’ve all experienced this at some point in our teaching career. A student walks into their lesson, excited about the new horn they just bought, only to pull out a cheaply made Chinese horn. The worst one that I have come across is the Rossetti, but I can definitely say that the Briz horns are far superior than most other Chinese-made instruments. The Briz is the brainchild of Ken Pope and Ion Balu, two well-respected horn players and repair guys. The build quality of these horns is exceptional, and I think they all play very well. The Briz is available in several different options, including the Geyer/Knopf, Kruspe, and a custom version of the Geyer/Knopf horn (hand-hammered). One of my students bought a Briz, and I’m pleased with how it has held up. For the price, $4100, it’s difficult to find a better option. Currently, these horns can only be purchased through Pope or Balu. As usual, I prefer the Geyer/Knopf version, but the Kruspe-style Briz is pretty good as well. The Custom Briz is a very fine instrument, but at a higher price point ($6000).

Verus: To compete with the Pope-Balu Alliance, Houghton Horns developed its own Chinese-made horn. The Verus is also a Geyer/Knopf-style horn available in two options, the V and VG. The VG is completely constructed of Gold brass, which seems to be the only real difference. These horns are actually priced a little lower than the Briz, $3200, so they are very appealing. I’ve only played on them once at the 2018 SEHW, but they seemed to be very well-made. I thought that they played a little sharp, but that could just be me. I’m waiting to pass a real judgement on the quality of these horns until the next time I play them. For right now, I think the Verus is a very good option, especially considering its affordability. These are only available through Houghton Horns.

Paxman: I like Paxman horns, and the brand has been synonymous with excellent craftsmanship for decades. Around 2008, Paxman decided to venture into the student horn market. I’ve seen a few Paxman Academy horns available, but the most common Paxman students horns are the Series 4 and Series 5. The Series 4 is more of a true student model, with a modified Geyer wrap. It plays fine, but doesn’t offer anything special. The Series 5 is a much better instrument, modeled after the Paxman 20 pro horn. The Paxman student horns are all made in China, but the Series 5 is definitely one to keep in mind. The quality is on par with the Briz and Verus horns, although the price tag is very steep, retailing for $5800. The Series 5 is intriguing, but I don’t think I would recommend it over a Yamaha 671 or a Briz. Good playing horn, just too expensive for the student market. You might as well try to find a good used custom(ized) horn at this price range.

In general, the biggest misconception that I’m sure most teachers deal with is the idea or concept that you have to buy a brand new instrument for it to be good. This is totally false. I have actually never owned a brand new instrument, and I’m sure that there are plenty of other people out there that can say the same. There are plenty of great used instruments available, and if money is an issue, take a look at some of the more affordable options that I mentioned. The “Classified Ads” section of the IHS website is a great place to start. A horn player and technician in Michigan, Bruce Tubbs, posts a lot of affordable and quality instruments on the IHS website, as well as eBay. Just be careful with eBay, because you just never know when someone is being truthful. If you’re interested in an item on eBay, ask the seller some questions about it. If they sound like a horn player or a music technician, then you should be fine, if not, stay away.

Summer Practice Time!

I have always enjoyed practicing (Yes, I know that I’m weird), but I’m not always able to find time during the school year to practice everything on a consistent basis. Fortunately, since I’m a teacher, I can continue the practice tradition that I began when I was preparing for grad school.

I have always had an affinity for etude books. I even wrote my doctoral dissertation about horn etude books. For some reason, I just enjoy locking myself in a room and playing through as many etudes as possible. To this end, I started a tradition of reading through lots of different etudes during my summer practice. It began with playing through 8-10 etudes a day from a stack of maybe 4-5 books. Since then, my etude collection has grown substantially, and I now probably read from 8-10 different books a day, which means that I’m playing through approximately 15-20 different etudes on a daily basis. To me, it’s not only fun, but it also helps to keep me in shape. Before I went to grad school, this was how I improved my reading skills and endurance. During my rehabilitation from Embouchure Overuse Syndrome and severe performance anxiety, this has been a valuable way to not only regain my endurance, but to also challenge myself and recover a lot of the technical facility that I lost.

I don’t always play through the same stuff, but I will revisit etude books that I’ve worked on in the past. When playing through etudes during my practice session, I try to alternate between books that are enjoyable or that I’ve mastered and those that are new or more challenging. Here is a list of all the different etude books that I have played through over the years:

Bach – Cello Suites; Basler – Legato Interval Studies; Belloli – 12 Progressive Etudes; Brahms – Ten Horn Studies; Chaynes – Quinze Etudes; Clark (ed.) – Studies in Lyricism; Concone – 32 Lyrical Studies (Wagner); Cugnot – Thirty Etudes; Denniss – Studies for Low Horn; Faust – Interval Studies; Gallay – 12 Etudes for Second Horn12 Grand Caprices22 Studies40 PreludesUnmeasured Preludes; Getchell – Second Book of Practical Studies; Grabois – Twenty Difficult Etudes; Hackleman – 21 Characteristic Etudes for High Horn; Kling – 40 Characteristic Etudes; Kopprasch – Sixty Selected Studies; Lewy – Ten Progressive Etudes; Matosinhos – 12 Jazzy Etudes15 Low Horn Etudes; Maxime-Alphonse – Books 1-6; Miersch – Melodious Studies; Mueller – 34 Studies; Pottag – Preparatory Melodies; Randall – Twenty Etudes for the Advanced Horn Student; Reynolds – 48 Etudes; Rochut – 120 Melodious Etudes (Trombone); Schmoll – 14 Modern Studies; Shoemaker – Legato Etudes; F. Strauss – Seventeen Concert Studies; Thevet – 60 Etudes; Uber – Solo Etudes for Horn; Wagner – Kopprasch Down Under

It’s a long list, and this definitely isn’t even all of it. While at WVU, I had access to Dr. T’s vast collection of etude books, and I basically had free reign over all of the music in her office, which literally took up a whole wall. I know that I have played through others, but this is what is currently in my library. Some of these books are definitely a little too advanced for some students, but I feel that this list has a lot of the major etudes that students and professionals should know.

As I mentioned above, my dissertation discusses most of the aforementioned books and rates them based on difficulty level. I would be more than happy to share my dissertation with anyone that is interested, but there is also another resource available on-line.

www.hornetudes.com by Ricardo Matosinhos

Matosinhos and I were actually working on the same dissertation topic at the same time. I was hoping to publish my dissertation as a resource book, but Matosinhos’ website is so thorough that I decided against it. Either way, it is a wonderful resource that everyone should know about and use.

I don’t do this “etude routine” every day, but whenever I play through these etudes, I am definitely getting a full workout, and I feel that it sufficiently replaces the rigors one would go through when facing a full rehearsal schedule. Some days, I will come back to the horn after doing this routine and play through other stuff: solo lit, chamber, or orchestral excerpts. During my grad school days, I would warm-up for an hour in the morning, play through the etudes for an hour during the middle of the day, and then do another hour session later in the evening. Like I said, it was a great workout, and I always felt improved as a player and well-prepared for anything after the summer months.

I’m sure that everyone has their own practice regimens, but it’s always helpful to hear new ideas and to try out new things. Just don’t forget that there are lots of etude books out there waiting to be used. I hope to have one of my own out there soon.

Happy practicing!

An Efficient Embouchure, Confidence, and Air Support/Control

These three qualities/aspects of playing may not seem to have anything in common, but in actuality, they are very similar and all equally as important. In order to be a good musician, one must master each of these concepts. When we are learning to become a musician, we always seem to tackle these issues individually and hardly ever tend to see the association between them. Since suffering my injury and going through the subsequent rehabilitation, I have noticed a striking similarity between these three ideas. From my perspective, I have come to realize that these three qualities CANNOT exist without the other.

Once I began suffering from Embouchure Overuse Syndrome, I began to notice a drastic decline in both my confidence and the ability to use my air efficiently while performing. This was primarily due to the fact that I was utilizing an inefficient embouchure. I know that there were a multitude of problems created by my inefficient embouchure, but these are two areas in my playing that I struggled with the most during my rehab. I actually began to regain my technical facility and flexibility first after fixing my embouchure, and I believe that this helped me to begin to feel more confident in my playing, which in turn, continued to elevate my playing ability in general.

My loss of air support seemed to be directly derived from both maladies, my loss of embouchure and confidence. It didn’t happen at once, but over a period of 6 months, I began to notice a drastic decline in my ability to play long phrases, and my sound went from being very colorful to just mediocre. Personally, I know that these side effects were mostly due to my lack of confidence. Normally, when an anxious person suffers from an anxiety attack, you sweat, shake, lose the ability to concentrate, and suffer from shortness of breath. I didn’t realize this at the time, but I had been scarred so badly that I began to suffer an anxiety attack every time I picked up the horn. I was so afraid of playing and messing up that I was unable to take in enough air to produce a quality sound, and sometimes, I was unable to produce a sound at all. Initially, I thought that something else was wrong. I began to wonder if I had lost my air control and support due to my weight gain and lack of exercise (Thanks, Depression!). Maybe it was due to the fact that I wasn’t practicing enough. Yes, I’m sure these things had an affect, but my anxiety was the root of the problem. Once my condition began to improve, my air support and control came back. I still need to exercise and lose weight, but my anxiety had to be conquered first.

The funny thing is that even though my embouchure was back to normal, and I was beginning to regain some confidence, I still suffered from issues with my air when performing in front of others. My anxiety was so advanced that even though I knew that I was improving, I was still scared to play for others. Nonetheless, I still put myself out there and subsequently gained more confidence through these experiences. I’ve noticed that as I become more confident, my anxiety is more controllable, and I don’t have to think so much while I’m playing. This means that I’ve also been able to utilize my air more efficiently, which solidifies the fact that my air support not only depends upon an efficient embouchure, but also relies heavily upon my confidence level.

I have always suffered from anxiety, so it comes as no surprise that I would need to face my nemesis once again to regain control of my life. This whole ordeal affected pretty much every aspect of my life in a negative way, so I’m glad that it’s over, but I can honestly say that it has made me stronger. I think it has also forced me to re-evaluate my teaching, and I do feel that I have become a better teacher throughout this process as well.

Some more thoughts about air. I wish that I could give everyone some magical tip that will fix all of your problems, but I can’t. However, I will say that most, if not all, problems can be solved through hard work and determination, which is what it took for me to overcome my issues. One thing that I have noticed is the fact that as I have become more efficient with my air, I am thinking less and less about the process and more about the result. I’m not thinking about how to create the sound. I have a clear concept of the sound that I want, and then I just do it, no extraneous thoughts involved. When I’m teaching younger students, I do give them specific instructions, “Use more air,” “Faster air,” “Energize the air,” etc., but I also explain that I’m trying to teach them how to intuitively use their air in order to become more efficient. I constantly point things out in the music, especially whenever slurred leaps are involved. I try to remind them that every time they see a leap, they should begin to “energize” or “churn” the air more quickly on the bottom note to prepare and support the shift to the upper note. If you take worrying about air out of the equation, then you can just focus on the note, which ultimately gives you a better chance to be accurate.

It all really boils down to efficiency and confidence. If you’re efficient, you’ll be more confident, and with confidence, you can achieve a great deal. Efficiency is the key factor, but for someone that suffers from sever anxiety, confidence plays a major role in how I perform and how I sound. Even if I’m playing efficiently, I will not sound good unless I am confident in my abilities. Confidence takes to time to develop, but I promise that it is worth it. I’ve felt the difference twice (lack of confidence vs highly confident), and it is really a life altering experience. Remember that everyone will progress at a different rate. For me, it took longer due to my anxiety, and I also had to surround myself with the right people. Just don’t give up, because like I mentioned earlier, if you put in the work, it will happen.

Tuning, is it important?

I know that we’ve heard this so many times: “You should tune or play with a tuner, because it will make you a better player/musician.” Yes, this statement is true, but it’s such a bland blanket statement that most students will probably just “tune” it out and continue to do what they do, which may not be the most effective or efficient process. Students seem to respond better when you can either give them tangible evidence, or list specific benefits that will entice the student to at least give it a try. Sometimes, you have to force the student to tune or perform a certain exercise at every lesson, so that they can feel the difference over a period of time. I have all of my private students do a specific tuning sequence every time that I see them, and this process has not only improved the overall pitch quality of my students, but it has given them tangible evidence to show that tuning does make a difference, especially when you do a lot of ensemble playing.

The controversial question: How should I tune? You’ll receive many different answers if you ask this question, because most teachers and musicians have strong feelings about the proper way to tune. When I was in-between my undergraduate and masters degrees, I studied with Bob Pruzin for a year, who was the horn professor at the University of South Carolina. He told me a story about how he was going to be in a wind quintet as part of his graduate school assistantship, and that he spent the summer practicing really hard to prepare for this opportunity. Despite all of his practicing, when he showed up for the first rehearsal, his tuning was so bad, or just so off from the other players that everything sounded awful. From that point on, he decided that he would always practice with a tuner on his stand, (turned on of course).

Now, this is the advice that I’m assuming the majority of people would give, and it’s great advice. I do this a lot, but you also have to realize that tuning can’t just be solved by playing every note in the green all the time. You also can’t rely on a tuner when playing in groups, so I always try to teach my students how to train their ears and adjust without having to look at a tuner all of the time.

For the longest time, I just practiced with a tuner on my stand. I had some friends that talked about using drones to tune, but I never really experimented with it until my DMA. Dr. Virginia Thompson, late horn great and former professor at West Virginia University, discovered The Tuning CD, which she required all of her students to purchase and use on a regular basis. It’s different from most drones, because the tones contain all possible harmonics, high and low, which makes it very easy to tune intervals throughout all octaves. Dr. T would always have us play through the Farkas Pre-Warm-Up Routine on p. 32 of The Art of Horn Playing. This way, we would have to learn how to adjust the different notes within a chord, which is essential to ensemble playing. We’d start on track one, which was the concert C pitch, and play through the Farkas exercise utilizing the first twelve tracks of the CD. You’d have to repeat the first two tracks for the last two lines of the routine, but it all worked out.

At first, I was a little perturbed and felt that this was a waste of my time. I knew how to play in tune, and I didn’t feel like this would be helpful; however, after a month of doing the tuning routine, I noticed that it was easier for me to adjust in ensembles, and my tuning became more consistent in general. Keep in mind that I did this routine on a daily basis, but I even noticed a difference in those horn students that only did the tuning routine once or twice a week. As a section in ensembles, the horns were by far the most in-tune. I would often use The Tuning CD at the beginning of horn choir rehearsals, and I always felt that this process helped us to play better as a unit. We were able to sound loud without having to push ourselves, because we knew how to play in-tune.

Over the years, I have continued the tuning tradition and all of my private students do Dr. T’s tuning exercise at the start of each lesson. I continue to us The Tuning CD, which is now available through Amazon Prime, but I have recently branched out and found a couple of other apps that have been very useful. I know a bunch of people, especially band directors that love the Tonal Energy app, but I’m not as big of a fan of it. My favorite new tuning app that I’ve been using for the past few months is the Drone Tuner. Unfortunately, it’s not a cheap app with it being priced at $9.99, but I still feel that it’s a steal considering the cool functions. I know that most apps only cost a couple of dollars, but you have to keep in mind that it still costs $20 or more in most cases to buy a nice tuner. The only downside is that the Drone Tuner is only available on IOS. I think that it will eventually be released on android, but it hasn’t yet.

Anyway, the Drone Tuner is cool, because it combines the aural aspect of a drone with the visual aspect of a strobe tuner. The drone isn’t nearly as good as The Tuning CD, but it works well. I do like the fact that you can adjust the sound of the drone to fit your instrument. It’s a lot easier to match a pitch when it sounds more like your instrument instead of some electronic sounding tone, so I definitely like this feature. I also think that it has helped some of my students, because they can hear and associate with the sound a little better. Once they figured out what was going on, my students also have enjoyed the strobe aspect of the tuner and how each interval tuned depicts a different image or figure. It’s also nice that I can just pull out my iphone or ipad and use the app whenever I need it, so I would definitely recommend checking out the Drone Tuner app if you haven’t already.

So, back to the question at hand: Is it important to tune? The answer should be resounding, “Yes!” I think the better question to ask is this, “How often should I tune?” Of course, you should probably already know that answer to this one, which is EVERY DAY. I can’t stress enough the importance of playing in-tune, especially if you plan on doing a lot of gigging at some point in your life. They will always bring back the people that are easy to play with and can fit in with the sound of the section.

 

Breath Attacks

As a younger horn player, I struggled with attacking first notes. I felt so much anxiety over missing the note that I would be unable to make a sound for a few seconds, then it would finally come out. Sometimes it would sputter, kind of like when you try to crank your car on a cold morning, and other times I would need to consciously relax myself and allow the air to move freely in order to produce a sound. I would blow, but my upper body was so tense that I wasn’t blowing enough air to make a sound. Unfortunately, this “hesitation” in my attacks resurfaced after my injury.

This problem seems to always prey on me when I have lost all confidence in myself and my abilities as a horn player. When the hesitations first started to occur, it was because I hadn’t built up enough confidence through positive experiences. I was also very afraid of putting myself out there (Remember that I am an introvert and that drawing attention to myself isn’t something that excites me). After the injury, I didn’t think that I would be able to play anymore, and my my embouchure setup felt foreign, which didn’t help my confidence. I didn’t know what note would come out, so I was afraid to play. I was also afraid, because I was really embarrassed of how I sounded. I knew how well I could play, and I didn’t want anyone else to know how bad things were, because I didn’t want anyone to think less of me. Again, I was linking my self worth to my current abilities as a player, which was not a healthy situation.

The way that I overcame both situations was a combination of diligent practice and the fortification/reparation of my mental state. I have already talked about how I’ve been working to change my mental fortitude, and I will continue to do so, but this particular post is meant to focus on a particular type of exercise that helped me along the way to overcome the hesitation, and anxiety, I felt before attacking a note. This particular exercise, or group of exercises, involved the use of breath attacks on a daily basis.

Breath attacks were a daily part of my routine during undergrad and grad school. I was introduced to the Caruso Method while struggling to become a horn player, and I used many of the exercises to help build my strength and endurance. I guess that I should credit these exercises for turning me into a “high” horn player, even though there isn’t such a thing any more. When I practiced the Caruso exercises regularly, I was able to comfortably play above a written c”’. I never really went through the whole book, because I just felt that the first two exercises achieved the goal, and everything else felt like overkill. Here are the Caruso exercises:

Breath Attacks - Caruso Style

Breath Attacks - Caruso Style - High

The catch is that you have to keep the mouthpiece on the face the whole time. Caruso gives you breaks to breath, but you breathe through the nose, either in or out. Don’t loosen the corners of your embouchure to let out air, because even that small change will lessen the benefits of the exercises. The first exercise should be done twice, I forgot to add the repeat sign. The second one, which obviously focuses on the high range, start at your own pace. Go as high as you can, until you either can’t play the note or have trouble with the slur. At this point, take the mouthpiece off of the face, rest a minute, and then try again. If you still falter on the second attempt, then it’s time to stop. If you’re successful, then keep going. At my best, I was able to play up to a written f”’. It wasn’t the prettiest sounding note, but it helped my confidence, and made play a written c”’ feel a lot easier to play.

Another breath attack exercise that I used to improve both accuracy and stability in the high range, is a short exercise that I received from Bob Pruzin. Pruzin was the Professor of Horn at The University of South Carolina for many years. I studied with him for a time, and he had a very specific way of doing things. Some things were great, and others were a little on the gimmicky side. This particular exercise really helped, and I’ve used it off and on ever since:

Breath Attacks - Pruzin Style

Play with a metronome and take the mouthpiece off of the face between each note, because you want each breath attack to simulate a first attack. I love doing breath attacks in the high range, because there is no room for mistakes. Your embouchure has to be set correctly for each note, which really helps one to feel the note. We can sometimes get away with not being perfect with the help of the tongue through articulations, but that’s not so with breath attacks. They help with accuracy, because, like I just mentioned, you really feel the note and get a better understanding of what needs to take place to perfectly and efficiently play each note throughout the range.

During my undergrad, when I was first afflicted by hesitation attacks, I worked on breath attacks using the Singer – Tone and Control Studies – Ex. 1. I would breath attack the first note, and then attack the following two. I would use a metronome, set anywhere from quarter = 60-72, and I would also take the mouthpiece off of the face between each attack, simulating a first attack each time. Here is a portion of the exercise:

Breath Attacks - Singer Style

You would follow the same chromatic pattern up to a written f” or g”. Then, do the same with the mid-low range, starting on e’ and working down chromatically to a written c. This helped a lot, but I also developed a similar exercise that challenges your ear and accuracy a little bit more:

Breath Attacks - Singer Style - Johnson Version

This is only a portion of the exercise. I start it on a written g’, and then the exercise works chromatically, alternating up and down, from this note, ending on a written g and g” respectively. It’s a great way to work on accuracy, and it will hopefully rid one of hesitation attacks as well.

Another exercise that I have used recently to build and maintain consistency in the pedal range is a version of the Pruzin breath attacks. It takes the same concept, but shifts the focus to the extreme low range. The goal is to get a really good, loud blast for each pedal note. If you can play the notes really loud, then you’re doing the right thing. I never worked on breath attacks in the pedal range until working with Bill Caballero. He suggested it, and it helped, so I’ve used it myself and in my teaching.

Breath Attacks - Low Horn Blast

I wish I could say that breath attacks will fix all of your problems, but they won’t. These exercises will help you through the process, but perfecting your attacks takes time. Work with a metronome, record and/or video yourself, play in front of people as much as possible, and believe in yourself. A lack of confidence is normally the prime suspect when dealing with hesitation attacks. It’s also a good idea to observe the amount of tension present when trying to start notes. Any amount of excess tension in the upper body will negatively affect one’s ability to play with ease. I know from experience. I would feel a lot of tension in my shoulders and neck, and my throat would tighten when trying to start notes. This would also affect my breathing. When starting a phrase, I would always take shallower breaths and be unable to to play through long phrases.

Stay positive and trust the process.