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Maintaining a musical mind between gigs

  • Thomas Bacon
  • Topic Author
02 Apr 2009 11:05 #266 by Thomas Bacon
Maintaining a musical mind between gigs was created by Thomas Bacon

Dear Mr. Bacon,

I was wondering what advice you might offer to young horn players who are soon to be, or already out of school? In terms of seeking out not only jobs and preparing for auditions, but maintaining a musical mind between gigs. Also in terms of picking a new home location? Moving back home is always an option, but is still being perceived as a student is a concern.


Thomas Bacon's answer:

Hi Jason,

This topic could turn into a book, there are so many aspects to consider. So let's start with "maintaining a musical mind between gigs."

In short: it is all up to you. If you are a self starter, with discipline and motivation that keep you striving even when nobody is depending on you to do so, this should be no problem. If you are not a self starter or have little discipline, then that's what you need to work on first. If you don't, your career will likely begin to fade as you get more absorbed in just making a living and less absorbed in music. Please know that you have the power and the responsibility to create your own future. Career goals rarely just happen, and if you have a goal, you need to strive towards it today. If a lack of self discipline is keeping you from doing so, any library or large bookstore should provide you with a wealth of reading material on how to change that. Go to your local bookstore like Borders, Barnes and Noble, or Books-A-Million, and browse through the Self-Help section. Choose a few titles to peruse, grab a cappuccino at the coffee bar and sit a spell while you pick out the book(s) you wish to purchase.

The truth is, most people fit into a category somewhere between workaholic-overachiever and alcoholic-loser. If you are in the former class, you won't need much help, except maybe taking a class in meditation to learn how to relax. And since you wrote in with the question, I know you are not in the latter class. So let me give some more specific ideas on how keep your focus on music. Remember, all of these must be initiated by you, so if motivation and self discipline is a problem for you, it will need to be addressed first (see previous paragraph).

The most obvious and foremost thing you need do is practice daily. Set aside two or more times each day to practice your horn. For bare basic maintenance you should probably get at least 60 minutes each day. Please realize though, as a beginner one hour a day would be a lot, and will achieve great progress. But for an advanced player, one hour a day will just barely keep you from getting worse. So if you are working up for an audition or major performance, you should put in lots more time than that. In The Art of French Horn Playing, Farkas says that "three well-spaced hours of practice a day is a necessity." I concur.

One great help can be to keep a practice log. It can be a chart you put on the wall of your practice room, or a notebook, like keeping a practice diary. Use it to keep track of what you practice and how long you spend on each different thing. Farkas gives an example of a "practice chart" on p. 44 of The Art of French Horn Playing. You can also google the words "practice log" (in quotes) to find links to lots of sites with ideas about making your own practice log. Then it is up to you to do it.

Having a basic practice routine helps. It is a set of exercises that you do on a regular basis, just like athletes going to the gym to keep their shape in the off season (i.e. between gigs). There are many such routines published for the horn: Farkas, Dufrasne, Standley, Thompson, and more. And lots of teachers have their own favorite exercises that they pass along to their students. I'm sure you already have a few of those. Besides exercises though, there is always music you need to practice, new pieces to learn, old ones to refresh, upcoming audition rep, etc.

Here's another thought for those "between gigs" times. Start your own reading group. Most likely it would be a small ensemble of friends who just want to get together to read music. Brass or woodwind trio, quartet or quintet, or a horn trio or quartet all have some decent repertoire worth getting together to read. Even just a buddy to play duets with can help you keep your mind on the music. But unless you have well organized, self starting type friends, who have already contacted you about doing something like this, you will need to make this happen yourself.

Don't underestimate the benefit of listening to recordings and attending concerts. Do as much of that as you can. It can inspire, refresh and rejuvenate your own musical soul to hear others play. And not just horn music - expose yourself to as many different sounds as you can.

If you are still reading this, you are probably also a good a good candidate for this next suggestion: read a lot. At hornplanet there is a short list of books particularly relevant to hornists, go here:

In addition, any music library will have many books and periodicals to choose from. Everything from the most scholarly dissertations on very esoteric topics, to biographies, memoirs, interviews, job openings, event calendars, and much more. Read more than just horn related things too. You will be amazed at how much you can learn from other musical and even non-musical disciplines if you are open. If you make the mistake of thinking that because you have finished school you can stop learning, you are heading down a dead end street.

Another thought is to set up some projects or activities where others depend on you. For example, get some gigs for the above-mentioned reading group that you formed with your friends. Gigs that pay money are good, but volunteer gigs can also be very rewarding in other ways. Nursing homes, in-school concerts, etc. could open up a new adjunct to your performing career: being the contractor, or booking agent. It can get you playing gigs, and pay you a modest percentage for booking the gig too.

I haven't even mentioned auditions, and won't say much except that there is a wealth of information about audition preparation available elsewhere, even seminars you can attend specifically with that focus. And speaking of seminars, go! There are events year round, and especially in the summer, where you can go meet new players, expand your network of contacts, and draw ideas and inspiration from all kinds of people. By all means you should be attending as many as you can. Instead of working this summer at Taco Bell slinging faux-Mex at the masses, you should be going to some music-something somewhere. For example, come to the Rafael Mendez Brass Institute in July. As of today's date (4/2/09) there are still several horn scholarships available. I'll be there, let's talk more then.

You also asked about picking a home location, and that is a question that only you can answer. One can make friends and find work as a musician just about anywhere that there is a large population base within reasonable driving distance. So unless you have a job offer that draws you to a specific place, or loved ones that you need to be near, the choice of where to live depends pretty much on where you want to live.

If you are looking to relocate to an entirely new place, then think about every aspect of the quality of life in that particular place. Weather and climate, geography, location in relation to other places that are important to you, cost of living and economic conditions, the music scene and how you might fit in, and much more all should be considered. I know people who decided to move to both big cities and small in this country and in other countries just because that is where they want to live. Many of them are still there and doing very well, having found their niche. Best wishes on the journey to finding yours!

Thomas Bacon

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