August 7, 2020
Tips on playing the horn by Brian Jensen
Air is absolutely central to all we do as wind players. A good airstream will solve 90 percent of our problems.
- To properly breathe and take advantage of your full lung capacity, push out your stomach to let your lungs drop and fill up from the bottom. If you are doing this right, your shoulders won’t raise and you will feel your back expand against the chair.
- Exhale evenly through the horn.
- Exhale warm air (by having an open throat) for warm, dark tone quality.
- For a really long phrase, take a breath and then pack it in with a second breath before exhaling.
- Increase your lung capacity and breath efficiency by holding a note as long as you can. Time yourself and keep track of your progress over a few weeks.
Right Hand Position
Placing the right hand in the bell affects your tone quality and pitch. One option is to place your right hand on the bottom of the bell facing up. The advantages to this position are: (1) you can angle the sound up to your ear, (2) it’s a relaxed position and (3) it’s an easy transition to hand stopping. The other option is to place your right hand on the top of the bell facing down. The advantage of this is that it’s an easy transition to playing off the leg or standing.
Tuning Your Single or Double Horn
It’s better to continually listen and adjust to have good pitch than to tune your horn and forget about pitch.
- Start by tuning the shortest tube length (open C in the staff, no valves) and work toward longer tube lengths. Use a tuner and move the main slide, without adjusting your embouchure or your right hand position, until the horn is playing in tune. Remember, if the tuner shows you are sharp, then you pull the slide to lower the pitch. If the tuner shows you are flat, you push the slide to shorten the tube length. It is helpful to tune your horn with a steady tone and a comfortable dynamic.
- Next, check the pitch of open G and then middle C. Since they are all open notes (no valves), they should be in tune if you tuned C in the staff right.
- If you have a double horn you need to match the B-flat side with the D side which you just tuned. Play open C in the staff again this time using the thumb. Adjust your B-flat slide until the pitch matches the F side. You will need to repeat this step with all the subsequent fingering options.
- Now that you have the horn’s main slides (F and B-flat) in tune, it’s time to tune the valve slide. With the tuner play B (2nd valve) in the staff on the F side. (If you have a double horn, now you need to match the B-flat side to your newly tuned F side by playing 2/T). Play a few lower harmonics still with 2nd valve to see if your pitch is close. Three or four notes played with 2nd valve should all be pretty close to in tune. If most of them are out of tune, then you need to repeat this step by retuning the top note.
- Now tune B-flat (1st valve). Repeat step 4, including checking the lower harmonics on the F side.
- Now tune A (1st and 2nd valve). Repeat step 4, including checking the lower harmonics on the F side.
- Now tune A-flat (2nd and 3rd valve). Repeat step 4, including checking the lower harmonic on the F side.
- Now play a few scales slowly to verify you have tuned the horn well. If so, your scales should sound consistent and even.
Our goal is always Good Tone Quality. Good tone quality is the most important thing we can do on the horn. Think about it: every other instrument can play more accurately than the horn. And why do people like the horn? It’s the sound they like, so if we want to be noticed, we have to catch the listener’s ear with our tone quality. How do you do it?
- Air – lots of air
- Lip grip – grip to the center
- Mouthpiece Pressure – a good balance (as little as possible to get a good sound, but enough to send all our air through the mouthpiece and not leak out the sides)
Goal: Smooth, even slurs and accuracy.
- Smear between the notes without trying to stop on each one, like a siren.
- Gradually speed up the smearing time between the low and high notes until you have a smooth, even slur without any of the “in-between” notes.
General Practice Techniques for Improving Musicianship
Practice a fundamental at least five minutes a day. Don’t just “run through” your music.
- Set a goal before you start and stick to it.
- Play for people. You’ll find that you won’t be nervous for concerts.
- Record yourself. Then listen to your recording and evaluate your tone quality, rhythm, articulations, style, pitch and musicality.
- Use a metronome to improve your rhythm.