Group Therapy

“No man is an island…”, but it may feel that way when you’re holed up in a practice room for hours on end.  Picture this: you’re out there floating in the middle of the ocean (practicing the many things you’re not good at), searching and hoping for a life raft to magically appear (figuring out that special way of using your air or trick that makes you nail the elusive high note) to keep you from drowning (giving up altogether).  It can be quite daunting, tiring, and frustrating to “go it alone”.  So, why don’t you change that?  Grab a fellow horn playing friend or two and get to work – together!

When you are in school, there are loads of opportunities to gather other horn players together and simply practice together.  You can start by asking, “hey, do you want to get together after rehearsal to play excerpts or duets?”  The other party will likely say, “YEAH!” So, then you bring a few duet books, some excerpts, and whatever else you like to play and go to town.


It’s a great idea to rotate parts when playing duets.  Both parties need to practice being the leader or the follower and there needs to be a balance of high and low playing.  It is likely that you will be sight-reading, so make it a goal to not stop when reading through the duet for the first time.  Make the initial read as close to a performance as possible so as to test your skills.  After your initial run-through, go back to the rough spots.  When intonation issues arise, stop to work them out.  Pay close attention to the other player’s tendencies and adjust.  As you encounter different playing/musical problems, do remember to speak to each other diplomatically and respectfully.  Also, remember to give each other compliments and ask how the other person achieves success on a particular skill- especially if it’s something that eludes you.


Practicing excerpts in groups can be extremely productive for many reasons.  First, if you have the parts for the entire horn section, you can practice the excerpt more accurately.  It is always helpful to have the accompaniment or harmony playing in your mind while performing an excerpt, and practicing in a group will help ensure that you’ll be able to aurally replicate the feeling of playing in a section when you’re actually playing alone. Secondly, if your friend is particularly good at one section of the excerpt, and you’re not, you can “pick their brain” about how they play or think about that section and vice versa. It is in these moments where you can really make quick strides.  I have watched my students practice like this and rapidly work problems out on their own- it’s quite remarkable! Next, practice playing the excerpts for each other like you are in an audition setting.  Have your friends listen to you critically and provide feedback (with diplomacy and respect, of course).  Lastly, when you play excerpts together, you feed off each others’ energy. For example, maybe you are shy and reserved about playing loudly, but when you’re in the group, you go for it because you feel safe.  Before you know it, your confidence will start to build!


Play solo literature with and for your friends and share your musical ideas with one another.  When you do this, you’re practicing performing, execution, and stage presence. You’re also preparing yourself for possible future master classes that people will ask you to give because you’re so successful!


One of my most favorite things to do with fellow musicians on any instrument is to simply “make stuff up”.  You can start this in a group session by playing a consistently rhythmic groove and encouraging others to play to it.  Keep the groove going until it starts to “catch” and everyone involved is feeling free to improv on top of the line.  Then, you can start changing things up.  When you’re playing like this, all sorts of great things start to happen- you work on taking perceived musical risks, intonation, trusting your ear, and being sensitive to others’ musical ideas – IN THE MOMENT.  Once you experience this musical freedom in a positive light, you will feel more confident when you return to written music and/or if called upon to improv in a performance.

“If I could solve all the problems myself, I would.”

–Thomas Edison

“Many hands make light work.”

–John Heywood


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