Monday, January 14, 2008
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one: “Want to make a Trombone sound like a Horn? Just put your hand in the bell and miss a lot of notes!”
Well, I’m not offended. I mean, yes, we play with our hand in the bell and we play a treacherous instrument. In this brief article I would like to address the mystery of right hand position: JUST put your hand in the bell? Yeah, right!
The purpose of inserting the right hand in the bell of the horn is three-fold: 1) it serves as a support point, balancing the weight of the horn, and 2) it affects the timbre of the instrument, and 3) it assists with tuning corrections.
Proper right hand position should be taught from the beginning, as an important component of basic playing position. In describing the shape of the right hand, I like to use the analogy of cupping water - no daylight through the fingers and a natural curve in the hand. The hand is placed on the side of the horn furthest away from the body, at “one o’clock”. The fingers, acting as a “hinge”, should be flush against the bell all the way up to the knuckles, with support points falling on the index finger and thumb. If the right hand position is correct, the heel of the hand can swing toward the body to seal the bell for stopped horn timbre.
With regard to playing position, I believe that both sides of the body should share the distribution of the weight. This includes, if at all possible, keeping the bell off the leg. This allows the instrument to settle as a free extension of the body, as well as facilitating proper mouthpiece angle. By equally balancing the horn, the player’s shoulders, neck, and right hand will ultimately be more comfortable and natural. Also, the player can easily adjust from a seated to a standing position if necessary. If the right hand and wrist become fatigued, the player can rest the bell, temporarily, on his/her leg while maintaining the same posture. This position also prevents the player from slumping over the horn.
The right hand is also integral in assisting with intonation on the horn. A more open position will result in a higher pitch while a more closed position will result in a lower pitch. Once the horn player learns the tuning tendencies on his/her instrument, he/she will be able to alter the right hand accordingly. This technique, along with adjusting the embouchure and the slides, can result in much improved intonation.
In addition to enabling “stopped” horn timbre, the right hand generally affects the perceived tone of the instrument. If all members of your horn section, for example, would maintain similar right hand position, the result will be a more homogeneous sound. This is more effective (and more realistic!) than encouraging everyone to play the same brand of horn, with the same size mouthpiece, etc. Using the right hand to “cover” the tone can also be very effective when the horn is asked to be a member of the woodwind section, or in frequent symphonic voicings with the cello section.
It is important to remember that, from day one, we are establishing the foundation for a potentially lifelong musical experience with our beginning horn students. So encourage correct hand position—RIGHT from the beginning!!
Dr. Lisa Casey, Associate Professor of Music, joined the faculty of the Missouri State University Music Department in 2000. She teaches applied horn and brass methods. In addition to her duties at Missouri State, Casey is Principal Horn in the Springfield Symphony and also performs regularly with the Springfield Regional Opera, Ensemble 21, the Chamber Orchestra of the Ozarks, and the Missouri Chamber Players. She currently serves as a faculty member of the Missouri Fine Arts Academy. Prior to her appointment at Missouri State, Dr. Casey held faculty positions at Kansas State University and Tarrant County Community College in Fort Worth, Texas. Originally from Manhattan, Kansas, Casey holds the Bachelor of Music in Performance degree from Kansas State University. She received the Master of Music in Performance degree from the University of Idaho, and the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music. Her principal teachers include Dr. Craig B. Parker, Dr. Gary Mortenson, Dr. Robert Dickow, and Nancy Cochran.
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