Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Horn Diary

Back in August I got a new horn and it's been an amazing ride ever since. The move was from a Yamaha 567 to a 667, and it's still hard for me to believe how much easier it is to play. It's physically lighter, so playing off the leg as I do is less tiring, but the main thing is that the "slots" for each pitch are so much easier to hit. It's as if they are more uniform throughout the full range of the horn and that there's a much more either/or feel to getting the right pitch. 

It's also the case that I find it much easier to hit what note I want at the beginning of a piece, or after a long rest. That used to be a scary proposition for some pitches, but somehow those better defined slots make that easier as well.

With the new horn, my high G immediately went from sometimes there to just as good as the notes right below it, and the high Ab and A are starting to be possible. The written D a ninth above middle C has also become much easier to play. Previously it was always something like a register shift that I didn't always get, and now it's just another note.

Overall the instrument just feels more refined, especially the rotor levers. I now sometimes notice I'm playing with exactly the right amount of finger effort and that the valves changes are much more synchronous with embouchure changes as I move from note to note.

The overall tone is more refined as well, though I wonder if I'll ever be able to get that raw sense of anguish I got during the Fauré Requiem on the old horn. 

I didn't post on the new horn right away because I wondered if there'd be a honeymoon period right at first, and there was. After about 10 days or two weeks there was a week or two of getting that slight buzzing sound that almost sounds like something is loose, but that somewhere Farkas says is a bit of saliva right in the aperture of the embouchure. After a while I somehow adjusted and the horn plays as it did right at first.

Since my background is largely in stringed instruments - guitar, cello and banjo - I'd never really experienced how a better instrument is so much easier to play. With the strings the same technique will sound better on a better instrument, but there's nowhere near as much of a sense of the instrument being so much easier to play. 

On a different topic - I've finally begun to transpose horn music. The same local music man who organized the Fauré Requiem a couple of years ago is going to do the Brahms Requiem this spring and has asked me to play, so I downloaded the horn parts. I don't think I'll ever be able to transpose at sight, but working with this music over a couple of weeks I've been able to play it as written and not needing to put it in Finale and transposing it, as I always thought I would have to. Because I've played piano since childhood, both bass and treble clef read as second nature - and with all the arranging I've been doing, viola clef and tenor clef make sense to me. With that background, seeing music written in one key and playing it in another is really just sort of another clef substitution.

One last thing is a comment on the strength of muscle memory. The trigger on the new horn was set up as they all are, needing the trigger pulled to get the Bb horn. Back when I had my embouchure crisis and began working with Jeff Smiley's Balanced Embouchure method, I also restrung the trigger so that doing nothing gives me the Bb side and depressing the trigger gives me the F. My thought was that I was tensing up way too much in places I didn't need to when playing the Bb side, so that relaxing the thumb when going that direction helped me counter the over stressing. (I get a lot of strange looks from regular horn players). Anyway, the point is that until I restrung the new horn, I really couldn't play it as the trigger feeling backwards threw me for a loop. Intellectually I knew it really shouldn't make a difference, but it did. I went to a store to try out the new horn, but basically decided to get it on faith as I couldn't really play it as it was.


  1. So glad the new horn is going well! The time spent on the old one isn't wasted, because there is a good case for learning how to control a difficult instrument. The techniques for controlling a difficult instrument can give you even more refined control over a better instrument, for instance for smoother slurring or minute instantaneous adjustments in tuning.

    As for the trigger, do whatever works for you, and ignore all raised eyebrows on the subject.

  2. Jonathan - I see what you're saying about controlling a difficult instrument, and I thought of that, but can't see any way to settle the matter empirically - any info will be anecdotal. On balance, had I known just how amazing playing the horn was going to be for me, I'm pretty sure I'd have plunked down for the better model right off the bat.

    Thanks for the support on the trigger issue, though I'm contrary enough to think my way is better (at least for me) than what everyone else does - either that or I simply enjoy being an outlier. I still very much enjoy the proprioceptive reminder to relax excess tension when going for high notes. (The high A's are really starting to happen and it's wonderfully gratifying as well as musically useful.)