Teaching Students About English Horn: An Insight into the Unique Instrument
The English horn, or cor anglais, is a captivating and richly expressive double-reed woodwind instrument. While it shares many similarities with the oboe, it boasts its distinct character and tone. Teaching students about the English horn can enhance their musical knowledge and understanding, opening new avenues for creative expression.
In this article, we will delve deeper into the world of the English horn – exploring its history, unique characteristics, playing techniques and how educators can bring this fascinating instrument to life for their students.
A Brief History of the English Horn
The origin of the English horn can be traced back to the early 1700s in France. Despite its name, it has no connection to England or horns, but rather a misinterpretation of its original French name, “cor anglé”. The instrument evolved from its predecessor – the oboe da caccia – and became an essential component in orchestras during the classical era.
Distinct Features and Sound Production
The English horn is similar in appearance to the oboe but is slightly larger and features a pear-shaped bell at the end. Its most distinguishing feature is a bent metal tube called a bocal that connects the double reed to the main body of the instrument. This design lends it a deeper and mellower sound compared to its cousin.
The double reed comprises two pieces of cane bound together. The player blows air through a small aperture between these reeds, causing them to vibrate and generate sound. The pitch can be altered by opening or closing finger holes along the body of the instrument.
To help students become proficient on the English horn, teachers should first focus on proper posture and finger placement. Encourage students to keep their back straight, feet flat on the floor, elbows relaxed at their sides and support their instrument using a neck strap for added comfort.
Breathing techniques are essential for all wind instrument players. Teach students to take deep breaths from their diaphragm while maintaining a natural embouchure, carefully positioning their lips over the double reed.
Next, introduce students to fingering patterns, starting with simple notes and gradually progressing to scales and arpeggios. Like other woodwinds, learning these fingerings and patterns will enable students to play melodies effectively.
Introducing orchestral repertoire is an excellent way of familiarizing students with the role of the English horn in ensembles. Some notable pieces featuring the instrument include Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 ‘From the New World’, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.
Encourage Active Listening
Another important aspect of becoming a skilled player of any instrument is developing the art of active listening. Urge your students to explore recordings by renowned English horn performers like Thomas Stacy or Leelu Wang to appreciate the expressive potential of this extraordinary instrument. Engage your students in discussions about style, phrasing and tone colors that differentiate one player from another.
Teaching students about the English horn not only broadens their musical horizons but also fosters an appreciation for lesser-known instruments. By exploring its history, unique features, playing techniques and repertoire, educators can enrich their students’ musical journey, fostering a love of music that lasts a lifetime.