Kind Words

Below are some initial reactions to Horn Technique.

If you have had a chance to spend some time with the book and would like to comment, please email your thoughts to jeffrey.agrell@gmail.com for possible inclusion here.

 
….This book really is fresh and new. …there is much here that will very new to readers. Bravo! Horn Technique …is an impressive publication, one with much to offer. …It is as advertised truly “a new approach to an old instrument.” Serious students of the horn should check out this book – a huge bargain selling for only $19.99 as a print version and $9.99 for Kindle [eBook]. – Prof. John Ericson, Horn Matters (Arizona State University)

 
This is one of those “once in a lifetime” books on all things horn (and at $20 the best purchase ever). Jeff Agrell’s voice is so present in this must-have books for all horn players. I am using this in my University of Florida Horn Studio as a required text. We have already experienced great progress in our playing from Jeff’s wisdom and practically. Thank you Jeff for sharing your many years of experience with us all! And for shattering the traditional, stagnant and quite frankly stale ideas that have so long been a part of standard horn instruction. Bravo! –Prof. Paul Basler, University of Florida

 
WOW! – Prof. Jeff Snedeker, President of the International Horn Society

 
…Run, don’t walk, and get this book for your own library. – Jonathan Harnum, author of The Practice of Practice

 
This book is huge and it covers several aspects of horn playing with humor and clever and fresh approaches. Having both the digital and physical copy is a great option. –Ricardo Matosinhos

 
Love it! –Prof. Nancy Joy, New Mexico State University

 
I’m a Music Education major with horn as my principal instrument. I didn’t start playing horn until college, so I never got the normal beginning horn instruction that most people get in middle school. This book has been extremely helpful to me for the basics, more advanced strategies for my own horn playing, and strategies for teaching students of my own. Very worthwhile purchase! –Heather Rasch

 
During the summer I tend to take a break from reading horn-related books and articles, reading more science fiction and other types of “for-pleasure” stuff than I do during the academic year. This summer, though, I made it a point to dive into Professor Jeffrey Agrell’s magnum opus, Horn Technique: A New Approach to an Old Instrument. As John Ericson noted in his review on Horn Matters, a “brief” review of this nearly 500-page tome is next to impossible. But…if I could offer only two words about Professor Agrell’s new book, they would be “buy it!” You won’t find a more thoughtful, comprehensive, top-to-bottom, nuts and bolts discussion of horn playing anywhere. In a holistic yet meticulously detailed way, Agrell addresses not only horn playing, but overall musicianship as well. While many of the chapters cover traditional material – warming up, practice strategies, fingering, etc. – Agrell’s approach is always fresh and full of unique ways to tackle familiar problems. Jeff loves to challenge our (mis)conceptions, and brings to bear decades of teaching and performing experience. In some ways, though, the title is misleading, as Horn Technique is much more ambitious in its scope. Agrell proposes a reboot of the traditional way we approach music education. Instead of obsessing about note names and fingerings as beginners, we ought to learn music the way babies learn spoken language – through imitation, improvisation, and memorization of brief patterns which can be built upon later. Only once those basics are mastered should notation be introduced. … At the heart of this book is the idea of questioning traditional approaches to horn playing. There is of course much to be learned from the great players and teachers of the past, but Agrell asks that we be willing to consider alternative methods along with traditional ones. Although I’ve read the entire book cover to cover, I’ve only just begun to dig into Horn Technique. The principles and exercises in it will keep both my students and me occupied for some time. And at $19.99 for the hard copy, this is an incredibly affordable text. – Prof. James Boldin (jamesboldin.com), University of Louisiana-Monroe

 
…While most of the topics are specific to horn playing, much of the discussion in this book can easily apply to other brass instruments. The book starts with a simple and understandable definition of what actually is a horn (length of tubing). Then Agrell lays out where the horn student should begin in learning this complex instrument. Being quite thorough, Agrell covers topics ranging from overtone series, valveless vs. valves, scales/arpeggios, and much MUCH more…With the likes of Farkas, Schuller, and Tuckwell, Horn Technique will be become a staple not only for the horn community but also the brass world in being a pedagogical resource for all brass musicians. – Last Row Music (www.lastrowmusic.com, online resource for brass musicians)

 
This book is huge and it covers several aspects of horn playing with humor and clever and fresh approaches. Having both the digital and physical copy is a great option. –Ricardo Matosinhos

 
An excellent study on how to “rethink” the horn: many “horns”, not just F/Bb. I’m not a horn player (arranger/composer) but find much that is generally applicable to music in general: memory and internalization skills, getting away from the printed page and many other ways of thinking about general music theory. While very specific as the title says, it really is more of a new approach to learning or looking at music in a unique way. Wish we all were exposed to this type of thinking earlier in our music careers! –Paul La Rocca

 
Jeffrey Agrell is God’s gift to horn players! He is reshaping our universe with his publications! –Bernhard Scully, University of Illinois, ex-Canadian Brass

 
Those familiar with older horn publications will recall a classic 1962 book by Gunther Schuller titled Horn Technique. It is so compact that you can practically put it in your pocket, quirky in ways, but full of interesting information, and a good book to examine in comparison to the Farkas book.

Fast forward to today, we have another book of the same title, but different in practically every way. And those that have already seen Horn Technique by Jeffrey Agrell of the University of Iowa will also know that the idea of doing a brief review of such a massive volume is almost a humorous idea. But here goes!

The title Horn Techniqueis apt as the Agrell book, much more so than the Schuller, is fundamentally a book about actually building technique on the horn.

One thing I will say right away that I LOVE is the font size. As I get older I really appreciate books printed so that they are easily readable, as the temptation is for the publisher to cram more text on less pages. The result is, however, that this is almost certainly the longest horn publication since the 500+ page Dauprat Méthode de Cor alto et Cor basse of 1824 (in three volumes — more info here). The table of contents alone is more than eight pages long, there are 48 chapters divided into ten parts, the entire publication is well over 450 pages!

Having helped build very large websites I realize fully that organization is always a challenge with large projects. In this case, the book is full of interesting content that flows logically, but, still, purchasers may find things a little intimidating. An index would have been helpful. I mention all this as organization might have benefited by following the lead of Dauprat, breaking the content down into perhaps two or three distinct volumes.

Setting all that aside, the big positive is this book really is fresh and new. One complaint I have had about many horn publications is that authors seem almost afraidto say something different than Farkas. Agrell on the other hand really goes for it, there is muchhere that will be very new to readers. Bravo!

Horn Techniqueby Jeffrey Agrell is an impressive publication, one with much to offer. Printed and bound well and cleanly edited, it is as advertised truly “a new approach to an old instrument.” Serious students of the horn should check out this book — a hugebargain selling for only $19.99 as a print version and $9.99 for Kindle.

Review by John Ericson in hornmatters.com, July 9, 2017

 
This book is engaging and smart and funny, written in a style that pulls you in, like a buddy who puts their arm around your shoulder and says, “Come check THIS out!” Prof. Agrell’s deep acumen and long experience is so well leavened with humor and curiosity and glee that you learn things without even trying. I mean, how many horn books have a chapter named “Horn Study, Video Games, and Spiders?” But don’t let the playfulness fool you: the material in this book is heavy, and dead serious. And who says that can’t also be fun?
If you play horn, run, don’t walk, and get this book for your own library. I’d even say that if you’re a brass player of any kind, or are interested in brass playing or teaching, you need this book. Just don’t loan it out to your students or you’ll never get it back! –Jonathan Harnum PhD, author of The Practice of Practice

 
During the summer I tend to take a break from reading horn-related books and articles, reading more science fiction and other types of “for-pleasure” stuff than I do during the academic year. This summer, though, I made it a point to dive into Professor Jeffrey Agrell’s magnum opus, Horn Technique: A New Approach to an Old Instrument. As John Ericson noted in his review on Horn Matters, a “brief” review of this nearly 500-page tome is next to impossible. But…if I could offer only two words about Professor Agrell’s new book, they would be “buy it!” You won’t find a more thoughtful, comprehensive, top-to-bottom, nuts and bolts discussion of horn playing anywhere. In a holistic yet meticulously detailed way, Agrell addresses not only horn playing, but overall musicianship as well. While many of the chapters cover traditional material – warming up, practice strategies, fingering, etc. – Agrell’s approach is always fresh and full of unique ways to tackle familiar problems. Jeff loves to challenge our (mis)conceptions, and brings to bear decades of teaching and performing experience. In some ways, though, the title is misleading, as Horn Technique is much more ambitious in its scope. Agrell proposes a reboot of the traditional way we approach music education. Instead of obsessing about note names and fingerings as beginners, we ought to learn music the way babies learn spoken language – through imitation, improvisation, and memorization of brief patterns which can be built upon later. Only once those basics are mastered should notation be introduced.

Stepping back a bit, here are some of the big themes I took away from Horn Technique. There are certainly more, but these are the ones that jumped out to me.

  • Horn (and all brass) players need to have a detailed working knowledge of the overtone (harmonic) series. We need to know the overtone series number and intonation tendency for every note on the horn – Agrell calls this “horn math.”
  • Warm-ups and practice sessions should begin without using the valves (all overtone series) and then progress to using the valves. Historically, the horn developed this way, and it makes sense from a physical perspective as well. Many of the exercises in Horn Technique begin without valves and add valves later.
  • We need to know how to apply our knowledge of music theory to create real-world practice strategies. Agrell walks the reader through this approach, showing us first how to identify and analyze patterns, and then to create our own custom exercises based on those patterns.
  • Less Notes, More Music. One of the big principles in Horn Technique is that we spend entirely too much time with our heads buried in a music stand. Agrell advocates for more notation-free practice. Related to this, Agrell is also a big proponent of performing from memory.
  • Question Everything! At the heart of this book is the idea of questioning traditional approaches to horn playing. There is of course much to be learned from the great players and teachers of the past, but Agrell asks that we be willing to consider alternative methods along with traditional ones.
  • Although I’ve read the entire book cover to cover, I’ve only just begun to dig into Horn Technique. The principles and exercises in it will keep both my students and me occupied for some time. And at $19.99 for the hard copy, this is an incredibly affordable text.
  • Prof. James Boldin (jamesboldin.com) 9/8/17

     
    Jeffrey Agrell is a familiar name to readers of The Horn Call. He has been editor of the “Technique Tips” and “Creative Hornist” columns for the past seventeen year. He also has produced compositions and authored a successful series of books on improvisation games for classical musicians that have been reviewed here. His playing experience includes many different ensemble settings, notably 25 years in the Lucerne (Switzerland) Symphony Orchestra. Since 2000, he has been horn professor at the University of Iowa. Besides performing, he has won awards as both a writer and composer, with well over one hundred published articles and seven (now eight) books to his credit.

    The primary audience the author is trying to read includes horn teachers and intermediate/advanced students. It is recommended that beginners use this book only with teacher guidance. The website description of this book reads:

    “The horn (AKA the French horn) is a captivating concatenation of curving copper that is renowned for being perhaps the most beautiful of musical instruments in its shape and sound, but also the scariest and most unpredictable to play. This book (fifteen years in the making) is a new look at how this beautiful beast really works. Horn players are blessed for the quantity and quality of repertoire and pedagogical materials in their tradition, but cursed at the same time for letting that tradition mute curiosity about what is still missing and what should be part of horn study in this new millennium. Horn Technique is a detailed, thoughtful (and occasionally tongue-in-cheek) look at ways old and new to get from one note to another, plus many musical examples and exercises detailing the most efficient ways to teach the instrument to students at any level. It is a comprehensive resource for teachers, and a combination road map and gold mine of information for serious students. Above all, it encourages the reader/player to combine the book’s approach with what they already do, and, fueled by curiosity and imagination, to use the book as a springboard to make new discoveries about the best ways to master this ancient and amazing instrument.”

    I have reviewed many of Agrell’s previous works, so I admit I am predisposed to find everything he says interesting and useful. That said, I admit to approaching this book with reservations – I believe there are always new ways to think about things, but I wondered what direction(s) Agrell would take in presenting a comprehensive volume on horn technique without “reinventing wheels.” I always like the tone of Agrell’s writing – as one testimonial on the cover says, “It’s like a buddy who puts their arm around your shoulder and says ‘Come check this out!'”

    The first section, What’s What and Why, includes preliminary definitions and understandings of how the horn works. Overall, however, the encouragement is to think, be curious, know how your horn works (i.e. overtone series and the effects of valves), play with ink when necessary, but also try to play without it whenever possible, and prepare your technique so you can concentrate on making music.

    The next two sections explain more fully how the horn works in terms of valveless techniques and the impact of the valves – to Agrell, the latter is the means by which the tubing meets music theory. He promotes flexible and creative thinking – begin where you are and explore other ways of accomplishing the same thing, or more in less time. Oh, and practice like you are learning to play a video game!

    From there, we go deeply into practicing and organizing practice sessions. We are presented with a nice summary of the theories of practice (time, talent, neuroscience, and learning). His thoughts on the organization and planning/balancing the contents of practice sessions (warmup, technical development, problem solving, performance session) are insightful; though we are presented with lots of words, we also see a good collection of musical examples to illustrate the points. This is why, however the book is for players with some experience in converting written words into sounds.

    His next section is provocative – Valveless Technique Development, or more accurately the things we can practice that are not dependent on using valves. “The overtone series is how the horn works, and skill in moving around it underlies all horn technique. Valve technique go ‘on top’ of overtone series technique and is ‘how music theory works'” (page 169(. I like his use of harmonic series terminology and the choices of exercises to reinforce the understanding of how it works. I especially appreciate the consistent use of numbers, encouraging the reader to make real “math” sense of the sequence, and the large number of exercises to work on all aspects of this.

    The next section will be more comfortable for the “traditional-minded”: Valve Technique Development. We are presented with a great collection of exercises for scales, arpeggios, and intervals, including a nice summary of ways to trouble-shoot problems. I especially like his recommendations for building prowess in scales by using smaller units first (“Power Scales”) and his ideas for “fun with scales.” Finally, Agrell gives us excellent recommendations for increasing the depth of our practice, including how to get more results, how to use reality-based decision making, and how to think practically about what we need in order to address that directly, rather than assume everything will take care of itself.

    Next, we get to the crux of it all, Planning Technical Development Practice Sessions. Routines are a double-edged sword – reassuring, but also limiting. Thus, practice sessions deserve focused, informed decision-making. I was impressed with the references to and creative uses of non-musical resources and his use/application of terms like “spaced repetition,” ‘interleaving,” and cross-training, resulting in “Flashcard-Directed Spaced Repetition Technique Study Areas.” His workout templates and samples to organize and guide practice sessions are worthy of serious consideration.

    The sections that follow, Problem Solving: Repertoire, Performance Sessions (the content and organization of practive), and Peak Performance (stage presence and performance anxiety), should all be required reading, especially for teachers. His insights have broad bases and substantive depth. The section entitled Resources is a great supplemental collection of things like scales/modes, related supplemental articles (some originally from the “Technique Tips” column or expansions on subjects addressed in the book), bibliographies, etude recommendations, and more.

    At face value, the title of this book could be misleading, except I came away with the feeling that Agrell is encouraging us to redefine what we mean by “technique,” expanding it to include holistic understanding that embraces all aspects of physical and mental preparation leading to performance. As he says, “It is not the 19th century any more. It is not even the 20th century any more… Our musical training should be open to dealing with the realities of the demands of the modern world, which means we should be willing to learn new ways of learning music and the instrument to be ready for anything in this century.” (p. 441) By synthesizing approaches to technical development (with exercises) and non-musical resources, we really can perceive the horn as something different, as an extension of ourselves, which is what we tend to admire in our musical heroes.

    The best summary of this book is found in the preliminary pages, a simple yet profound quote from Agrell’s daughter Lili [6 years old]: “Horn playing is easy. You just take a big breath and pucker your lips and put your whole life through the horn.” Think in horn. Dare to try stuff. Read this book.

    Review in The Horn Call, October 2017, Vol XLVIII No. 1, p. 75-76 [Jeff Snedeker]

     
    Jeffrey Agrell is no stranger to the horn world. Having been a professional horn player for 25 years, his “second career” began when he became the horn professor at the University of Iowa in 2000. Since then, many of his students have gone on to illustrious performing and teaching positions. While a noted teacher and performer, Agrell has also become an author in the realm of music pedagogy. With numerous books and articles to his name, Agrell has clearly been a student of the instrument for quite some time, and is now passing along his vast knowledge in his large volume work, Horn Technique: A New Approach to an Old Instrument.

    While most of the topics are specific to horn playing, much of the discussion in this book can easily apply to other brass instruments. The book starts with a simple and understandable definition of what actually is a horn (length of tubing). Then Agrell lays out where the horn student should begin in learning this complex instrument. Being quite thorough, Agrell covers topics ranging from overtone series, valveless vs. valves, scales/arpeggios, and much MUCH more.

    With a detailed table of contents, the book is laid out in a cohesive manner, allowing the reader to quickly go back to topics of interest at a later time.

    With topics such as psychological performance, note accuracy, learning scales, proper practicing and others, the appendix section alone is worth the $19.99 in paperback ($9.99 Kindle version). What I found best in this book is that the insights given are not necessarily new; rather, they are fresh from a different set of lenses.

    What keeps the reader engaged in the 400+ page book (on 8.5×11 pager!) is the conversation-like writing that Agrell offers to the reader. Much of his writing is filled with wit and humor which allows the reader to come to a conclusion that “Yea, maybe I am over-thinking this.”

    If you are a non-horn player, such as myself, don’t let the technical verbiage for the instrument distract you from gleaning knowledge to key brass-playing elements. If anything, this book will allow to understand the difficulty in playing 12 lengths of tubing, and be forgiving to those who DO play said instrument.

    Since Agrell has written numerous other books, including The Creative Hornist, it is obvious that he gives a teaching style to writing about this complex instrument. With the likes of Farkas, Schuller, and Tuckwell, Horn Technique will be become a staple not only for the horn community but also the brass world in being a pedagogical resource for all brass musicians.

    -Review in website Last Row Music (online resource for brass musicians) 11-1-17

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