by Michael Reedy

As a young musician, I see that many of my peers have an idea of what tone quality is but they lack a firm understanding of how they can fix or practice this portion of their horn playing. Many will agree that tone quality is one of the most important factors when transitioning from a high school mentality to that of college and beyond. This mentality of tone production is one's interpretation of what the "ideal" horn sound should be and how it should be played. Because this is neglected, many small "bad habits" can be a result.

To me, a person’s tone is a mental picture of their “voice” being sung through the horn. This picture is made up of many small characteristics that embody what the musician feels is the correct way to produce the note; through a specific articulation, nuance or timbre. This is a result of what the musician has heard in the past and has stored in his/her mind as correct. Now is the time when the art of listening comes into play.

The art of listening for a musician is more than just ear-training or listening for balance within the ensemble, it is an exercise that will determine what the individual would like to translate to the audience. The best way I can think of explaining it is this….. Find five different recordings that have five different soloists or horn sections on it (i.e. Hermann Baumann, Berry Tuckwell, Stefan Dohr, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Chicago Symphony,) Then listen to each and find what you like and dislike about the individual or group’s sound. By doing this, you are clearing the path for what you think is the right way to play the horn and you then begin to dissect even deeper on what about the sound do I like? Is it the timbre? Or is it the articulation of the passage? This is forming your individual sound or “voice” within the horn world.

The biggest problem with young musicians is that the mathematical aspect of horn playing takes over (notes, rhythms, staying on top of the beat, etc.) and the individual’s emotion and lyrical aspect is kicked to the curb. Although technique is very important, the big picture of tone quality and the individual’s sound will fix many of the small “bad habits” that are a result of overlooking the characteristics of interpretation and style approach to the piece.

With this in mind, it is imperative that a young musician listens to a variety of recordings that have several different performers to determine what he/she feels is the “ideal” horn sound. Using the art of listening exercise and then applying it to your own playing will be the quickest, most efficient way to gain a more mature sound just by pausing for a moment and asking the simple question, “What would Dennis Brain do?”

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