Friday, December 26, 2008

Solo and Duets project - Week 15

I should have started this back in September! The solo and Duet posted this week are number 15. My solos are intended as short, contrasting, concert etudes.
These pieces are not hard if you have a fluent low register. One thing I made sure of is use of the entire horn range, we need to move beyond the limited low register use like what we encounter in Kopprasch. There are still a couple of pieces that I will be working on for weeks before I feel I can really do them as one-takes, but these are not them.

Solo #15, opus 139
This one needs to be very smooth, I needed to use really full lungs, but easy, slow air. The only real technical difficult is in the fingering on the first sextuplet the D# to E needs to be fingered 23 to 3 on the F horn and it can be done smoothly.

Duet #15, opus 132
The recordings of the new version of the first 16 duets are done, as soon as I can I will be going to press with the revised duet book (#1-16).
This duet again, except for the low register control is quite easy. The answer to all problems here is the ability to really fill up with air.
I like the Hindemith feeling of this one.

Richard Burdick

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Beyond musicality

In my practice and recording of my solos and duets, where I am recording each part non-stop, what I am finding is that the ability to do this is beyond the technical and musical, but is really a process of controlling my mind.

One : The obvious part, I need to really know the music, these solos are new, they use different scales than I have in my finger memory, so actual attention to the right note (tone) takes a little time. Along with that are the usual things: tempo, rhythm, volume, style, phrasing and all the mental choices of music making.

Two : Once I have learned the path of the music, then I am faced with the problem of getting through it without mistakes and musically.
First, I had one very important experience back in 1987 right about the time I was in finals for first horn of Victoria, B. C. Symphony. I was rehearsing with my friend Ken Durling for a recital of horn and organ. We were doing an arrangement of Bach arias which was quite high, we rehearsed over and over. One rehearsal, Half way through the movement, Ken spoke out; “wow, that’s great!” I wasn’t really paying attention, I was essentially day dreaming. This was important to me. When I am focusing on the notes etc. or really thinking about what I am doing it isn’t as good as when I am focusing on something else.
Second, I have this other problem, often in my symphony concerts somewhere in the program I end up thinking I haven’t missed a note yet. Every time this happens, within moments I crack something.
Really what I am doing in my “one-take” recordings is working on the mental process. There are a number of aspects to what I am doing.
In the music there often is a “hump” ; a point that is exceptionally hard, It is difficult not to think about: “Here comes the hard part.”
For a while I tried day dreaming. I would prepare: start the tape, put down the right fingering, exhale, inhale, think about a nice place and play as I thought about something like being on the beach, or some other happy place.
For a while I found a point in my brain (head) which I could focus on that took my concentration away from the music.
I think one of my most famous teachers really just puts his concentration in the musical expression. This is good, but it still is conscious. My best performances are when I start to think about something unrelated to the music and my horn playing. This is a mental place beyond thoughts of the musicality.
Currently in my process, I am working on counteracting negative thoughts and finding positive thoughts that help. If I do think, I try to keep it positive, such as: “ I’m doing well”, “this is the best recording yet”, “I feel good” etc. If a negative word such as: “clam”, “tired”, or “hard” pops up, these can’t be responded to with “I’ll never clam” or “it’s not too hard” they must be followed by positives. or things like “concentrate”, “play the notes, each one now and fully”, “make the phrase” etc.
Once I am over the hump, I find that I think I made it, then I go into thoughts such as play “each tone”, “concentrate”. This must be done all the way to the end. If I can’t stay in the day dream my thoughts must not have negativity.

This is a work in progress, I expect this to change as I do but the Idea of focus from the unconscious mind instead of having my thoughts get in the way is really helping me in my pursuit of flawless one-takes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


The art of recording multiple tracks to create a musical recording.

When looking up the definition of multitracking, says multitracking means: “Having, using, or produced with multiple recording tracks”

I. Introduction
I play the horn because I love playing the horn. I have worked at it enough that I have been able to earn a living at it and have risen into a position as a principle horn player in a full-time orchestra (39 consecutive weeks).
Even after playing the horn for 34 years, I have found that I really like to be in top shape, which means I am diligent in my practicing; I feel there is always room for improvement and an incredible amount of music yet to explore. In my quest, I have taken on a number of really big projects, always with an exploration of what I have not done, such as a composer I have never recorded, valve horn at A=432, natural horn, really high stuff, and now I am actually working on with a series of “one take.” One takes is a recording where the piece is done as if it were a concert; the tape doesn’t stop. In a recording studio, one can do it over and over until a really fine performance is recorded.
Examples of my one takes can be heard at: &
My primary emphasis with this article is about “solo” multi-track recordings.
A “solo” multitrack recording, where the musician plays all the parts is about the best thing one can do to explore where they really are musically. You get to play all the parts, usually higher and lower than a horn normally goes, that is if it an arrangement like the ones I have done in my Bach Oratorio, Favorites and Beyond Favorites albums. I have found this process, to be an incredible learning experience, one that I highly recommend to any musician wanting to improve.

II. The basic equipment
I use a Mac computer a firewire interface, digital performer software, and almost always record each track in stereo. (the opus 132 & 139 project is recorded with 5 simultaneous mono tracks.) I have a couple of choices of speakers to listen, plus my headphones. If on a small budget, one can get by with a USB microphone, garage band software and headphones. I like a little reverb in my headphones when I am recording & my headphones are actually softer in my ears than without them, which helps protect my hearing.

III. The space.
You want a quiet room! Watch out for the birds outside and other noises you may take for granted. Noise in multitracks will build up on you. I personally don’t want more than one “person” breathing at any one time, nor do I want to hear breathing all the time. My studio walls are wood panel, so I have put stripes of carpet on the walls, so they alternate at about one foot wide wood then carpet. I am happy with this for now. Before I put the carpet stripes on the walls I found a middle-low range boom; wa-wa ugly noise if that range was boosted in the equalizer,. This I think is how I will keep checking a room. I would recommend long tones followed by silence for reverberations, for a constant few minutes, then turn on your equalizer plug in and check for what sounds good & bad. I am currently trying to boost low and high ranges, to balance the recording through a bigger acoustic range. Also, I am not using the EQ that is a line, but I am using the plug-in that is 31 sliders. I am finding much more precise control of the sound with the 31 sliders. Slide them all the way up and all the way down fast to get a sense of what range you are altering, listen for weird noises and what sounds best! Try other speakers, until you have created a generic EQ that sounds good in every possibility you can. If there are specific problems like my wa-wa boom noise, which is most likely a sound that bounces around the room off of several walls and builds up, then try changing the room. Try a curtain, a blanket or add a hard surface. I think wide stripes of alternately reflective and absorbent material is best, and watch out for sharp corners in the room.
Another problem that I have not resolved yet is I want a mirror that will “look” at my hand in the bell from the front. I am working on my one-take recording projects, which I hope to record and videotape. I hope to find a camera position that films me from the front, but shows my hand in the bell too; especially with natural horn, people will want to watch the bell hand . . . A mirror there, creates a very reflective surface, that will need to be balanced by something very absorbent.
A key point here is what sounds good. This is where your own artistry happens. If it sounds good and you cannot think of how it could be better, then you have found your highest ideal for now. With luck over time you will find that you have gotten better and the recordings you have done document your progress.

IV time with the horn
Besides time on the job, I have two aspects of my practice. One is in front of the TV doing routines, composing with the horn or things that I need to do over and over. The other is recording (that’s it!).
Once you have found something you want to work on, you set up the recording program with the tracks and setting. Let’s start with a four-voice choral. For a four-voice choral, I think we need 5 tracks. Ensemble balance requires a strong supportive low voice that doesn’t overpower the lead line. Also, if we are just recording horn, the range is smaller than an average recording. A rock recording actually has quite a bit of high sound in the drums that fills in the whole spectrum of sound that a horn ensemble recording doesn’t have. You can use a click track, but then it might starts to sound metronomic. I would recommend using a click track for a couple of years before doing without. The click can be turned off in tempo changes. I have found that seeing the rhythm in the recording program was a very enlightening experience, and now I hear lots of problems with other musicians who don’t play square rhythms.

V. Squareness
I believe classical music to be essentially square. Most of the rhythms are fours with divisions of fours. If one is to deviate form the square rhythm, it still must sound the way it is written. One of my teachers said as long as someone could hear it the way the composer wrote it, then it is okay.
Then the problems with squareness arrive from a simple acoustic principle that the low tones need to lead the rest of the ensemble. In an orchestra without a conductor, the bass play should be the leader. In multitracks recording, the solo line or melody needs to control the speed of the music and the rubati, but the base needs to support it by being just ahead. Therefore, I would record a “draft” of the solo line first, then work at recording the best bass part that I could. In my latest work, I am finding it to have very clear low simple tones.

VI. Simple low tones
If you can image a baroque walking base line, where one would play: du – du - du – du, or something, it needs to be, simple tone, like “du”, but to make a clean start of the tone, one may need to pronounce “tu” but then it may be easy to pronounce tu-u, then the tone becomes complex. There are times for everything, but you need to listen and decide. This process of recording should be one of constant questing of: “Can it be better?” Try to avoid the idea that “ I played what I wanted to play, and that is the way it should be.” Yes, this would record the way you think it should be, but in the process of that, you didn’t learn anything.
By golly, just today, I found that my stop mute needs a different recording set up than what I have, and I decided which of my mutes is best! I am having real doubts about the projection of stopped horn.

VII. Do it over and over
I have found that that art of multitrack recording can be cut and spliced to be really together and take after take can be done choosing just the right interpretation, tuning, rhythm balance, etc. There are times when a second version of a piece be done, even fifteen minutes of music with eight voices, like I did with BWV225. Take the time, do it over and over until you are really happy with it. But since I am a very honest person and am interested in self improvement, and moving up to a better job, I have found that “one takes” are a very important goal. It is how I practice for auditions as well.
I remember the fourth horn audition for Columbus Ohio audition in the mid 80’s where there were 96 specified individual excerpts on the list. This list took me a full two hours to play straight through, and I did it every day for months. That put me in the finals.
I might suggest a “bone yard track” it’s easier to lay down multiple tracks to capture your best performance, than it is to keep overlaying them. Sometimes a comparison is nice to have.

VIII. Tips on tuning
The biggest problems with a modern tuner come when we want it to sound really in tune. That’s a contradiction isn’t? NO, a modern tuner is equal tempered, when a nice third is not. The most important thing to know about tuning is that Major thirds need to be 14 cents small, minor thirds 14 cents big. Perfect fifths are only 2 cents out of equal. A 2-cent difference really cannot be detected, but it may be nice to know that a fifth can’t be small, and inversely a fourth can’t be big; that is to sound nice.

IX. Balance
I have talked about balance a little, but in a recording, you will have the option of panning stereo instrument placement. The biggest mistake I have made in this department is place a low voice off to the side. The melody must be prominent, but the bass line must support, but can’t over power. Placing the bass in the middle so that in is heard in both sides of the stereo is best. Then, I personally love a hard panned stereo, where voices exist only in one channel.

X. Learn and grow
Don’t forget that everybody is in a transformation process. Let’s hope that we are all learning and growing. A person, such as me writing this article, may have some tips on the subject from experience, but I, by no means fell accomplished as a recording engineer, I sure want to learn, grow and improve. Don’t take what I have written as gospel truth, but instead as a point of reference. I hope you are inspired to go out and start exploring your own musical talents via the recording process.

I would love comments, tips, suggestions, and links to sound files of people’s recordings. You may send e-mails to me @ rb(at)

Richard O. Burdick