The Standley Routine

The unexpected passing of Gene Standley, dealt the community of Columbus, OH and the horn community in general, a huge blow. He served as Principal Horn of the Columbus Symphony for many years and was an all-around great horn player. I never met him or knew him personally, but his reputation was stellar. Thankfully, he (along with Stephen H. Hager) was able to leave us with a valuable piece of horn history, the practice routine developed by his father, Forrest Standley.

Forrest was Principal Horn of both the Dallas and Pittsburgh Symphonies, and he taught at Carnegie Mellon University for many years, teaching the likes of Dale Clevenger, Philip Myers, Howard Wall, Brice Andrus, and William Purvis. A pretty impressive resume. He developed his routine, known as the “Standley Routine,” after leaving the Pittsburgh Symphony due to “lip issues.” The Standley Routine is long, encompassing all twelve major and minor keys through different scale and lip slur exercises. If done from start to finish, it would take a player over one hour and thirty minutes to complete, per Forrest. The only other practice routine that even comes close to this one is the fabled “Heavy Routine” by Joseph Singer. Both routines require and develop an insane amount of endurance and traverse the full range of the horn.

Now, you might be wondering, “why is he talking about this practice routine on a blog dedicated to performance anxiety?” Well, I have been incorporating parts of the Standley routine into my warm-up lately, and it has helped me to regain some of the endurance that disappeared after my injury.

FS (Forrest Standley) recommends that one should start by playing only “some of the exercises every day” and gradually increase the number of exercises performed until one is able to play through the whole routine. As an alternative, he does mention that one could divide the routine into several different fifteen minute sessions done throughout the day.

The routine begins with an “attack exercise” similar to the “Tone and Control Studies” presented at the beginning of Joseph Singer’s Embouchure Building for Horn. The exercises that follow are divided into six different sections, with each consisting of two major and two minor scale patterns, two major scale arpeggios, each presented in three and four note lip slur patterns, an endurance exercise, and two major scale overtone series slurs. The only exception is that the sixth section does not contain an endurance exercise, but contains more of the overtone slurs.

In the past, I have played through this routine, front to back, in one sitting, and it is not an easy thing to do. The routine focuses on building endurance and flexibility, giving the player the confidence that he/she needs to play anything, in any range, and for as long as possible. For now, I have been incorporating a section of the Standley Routine into my normal warm-up each day. I’ll start by playing a couple of noodling patterns, do some harmonic lip slurs, several different lip trill/flexibility exercises, chromatic exercises in different octaves, play major scales two octaves, do one or two of the Basler lip slur exercises from his book, and then a section of the Standley Routine. It takes me over an hour, but I have felt an almost immediate difference in my endurance in the high register since starting this regimen.

There are plenty of wonderful warm-up routine books out there, and everyone tends to have their personal preference, but I do try to keep an open mind. I will always try something different, especially if it helps. If anyone out there is struggling with endurance issues, trying to come back from an injury like me, or hasn’t played in a long time, you might want to grab a copy of the Standley Routine. It will get you back into shape quickly, even if you’re modifying the routine a little, like me.

Disclaimer: Please be careful when first starting the Standley Routine. It is tough and doesn’t back away from the high range. It will help you get back into shape, but don’t hurt yourself trying to play too high or by trying to play through the whole thing during the first sitting. Be smart!


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