by Will Sanders
Over thirty years of teaching horn I have developed a unique philosophy and technical routine for playing and practicing horn. The exercises that I have created or use have been well thought-out and each exercise is designed to train and build varied aspects of horn playing in the most productive way possible. The main and most important element to successfully learning and mastering the horn is free flowing air. One must achieve a feeling of releasing the air instead of holding, pressing or squeezing the air. I try to avoid the word “support”, because it tends to imply that the air rubs, is held or is tense.
The horn methods of Farkas and Jacobs are good philosophies; however, good teaching is not something that can really be written down because there are almost as many different ways of playing the horn as there are hornplayers. People are so different and therefore the method of teaching must change from person to person.
Horn technique is built from the ground upwards in every aspect starting with posture and breathing. How the head is held in relation to the body can affect embouchure muscles and therefore it is very important that one stands in the most balanced, comfortable and relaxed way to allow the right muscles to develop. Good posture also ensures and helps build a strong and deep breathing technique. Alexander and Qi Gong techniques are very good for developing good posture and I have studied both of these myself for years. Once good airflow is achieved, with the diaphragm swinging freely, air should be concentrated on the lips to ensure that they swing freely. When the body is relaxed and in balance, one can start working on holding the horn correctly and placing it on the lips with the correct angle, low, relaxed shoulders and lip proportions. This has a lot to do with the anatomy of the person and is for every person different.
Changing or correcting a person´s technique depends on the problems they are having. After thirty years I have developed a technique of developing students quickly. The most important things to correct are unnatural techniques such as posture, breathing or embouchure inconsistencies. After such a long time teaching it is amazing how much I learn from every student that I teach. One thing I notice is that all students improve and develop with a better sense of posture, balance and better breathing techniques. It is important that the student knows what they are doing wrong and understands why it is wrong so that the problems do not reoccur after they have been corrected. It is also important for the student to develop their own sense of initiative and feeling for their strengths and weaknesses. It is very sensitive work; however, a student has the most control over and is responsible for their own development. Whilst practicing, learn to choose exercises that are appropriate for your level and also what you are playing, focusing on improving weaknesses and maintaining strengths.
I am not so much an embouchure fanatic as I am an air fanatic. Air is the most important factor of horn playing. I have three laws for explaining the role of air in horn playing:
- Quantity – the quantity of the air is primarily responsible for the lengths of phrases one can play. Lung volume or quantity of air ensures phrases are complete and the musical line is not broken.
- Compression – the compression of the air, achieved with the embouchure and mouth is primarily responsible for the register that one is playing in. It is important to note: a large volume of air does not ensure a good high register.
- Velocity or air speed – the velocity of the air is primarily responsible for dynamic control. The faster the air the louder one plays.
The hand positon inside the bell also plays an important role. Everybody has a slightly different hand form. The hand position is responsible for the cleanliness of the intervals. If the hand is stuffed too far inside the bell the intervals will be too close together, whereas, if the hand is not far enough inside the bell of the horn, the intervals will be too far apart. The cupping of the hand is responsible for the tone colour. A straight hand position will create a brighter tone than a hand position that is slightly cupped. It is, however, very important for airflow and resonance that the thumb is always connected to the index finger and that the entire hand stays to the side of the bell and not in the middle. If there are gaps in the hand this can also disturb the cleanliness of the intervals.
The position of the mouthpiece on the lips also plays a large role in the playing of the horn. The aim is to achieve a basic positon that allows the player a flexible embouchure in all ranges. High and low registers should be played with the least amount of lip movement, with range changes being made with the tongue and cheek muscles. Vibration should be produced by both lips, upper and lower. Einsetzen is an embouchure placed inside the pink of the lips and contrary to common belief a player that plays with this method has less endurance resulting in less flexibility due to the fact that only one lip is swinging freely rather than both lips. The Embouchure is at its strongest when the mouthpiece is place on the lips and not in the lips, so to speak. From my own experience , having played both ways , after 5 years of “ Einsetzen” I´m convinced that my teacher Erich Penzel was absolutely correct. Good quality of sound is produced by an open and free mouth cavity and the thorax.
The most natural embouchure is the one we develop as babies as a sucking reflex. Having said that embouchure is only second in importance to air. Remember; without gas a car doesn’t go, no matter how beautifully it is built!