Hornmasters Extra: An Update from Robinson on the Aperture

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One of the great things for Bruce and I is we hear from some of the greats of horn teaching and playing who do follow the site. The following note is from William C. Robinson and updates his thoughts on teaching the aperture, and we do thank him for permission to share this with Horn Matters readers.

Thanks so much for all the nice things you said about my book, “An Illustrated Advanced Method for French Horn Playing” in the recent Horn Matters article. When I read the article it brought back a lot of memories of how I used to teach horn. While I think that the things in the book are accurate and factual, in those days I was missing one very important point, regarding aperture control, tone and range control. Let me explain:

For several years Dale Clevenger was after me to go to see Arnold Jacobs. Dale knew that I needed something very important in my teaching and was just trying to help me. Finally, in 1977 I did go to Mr. Jacobs for some lessons and this is not an exaggeration – he changed my whole philosophy of playing, thinking and teaching – all in a matter of the first ten minutes of the first lesson.

I think all the things I wrote in my book regarding the aperture and use of it are basically correct – you do use a smaller aperture for the higher tones, etc., but the point that I had been missing all those years was this:

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The aperture does change for the pitches – but you don’t make it change, and try to control it by controlling the size of the aperture. Mr. Jacobs explained it to me this way:

To play a tone – sing that tone in your head use the air properly and that tone will sound. Think the pitch, quality and sound you want and the brain (which is the greatest computer ever invented) will tell the embouchure what to do to produce that tone. You don’t try to control the embouchure by trying to control the embouchure – instead, think the pitch, use the air and the brain will tell the embouchure what to do to produce that sound.

It is all so simple and easy – and the results are very gratifying. Immediately after I understood this concept my playing was better, my teaching was better and therefore my students played better. That was the important point that I was missing when I wrote the book. It was all there, except for the most important part – sing the pitch in your head as you play the tone!!

Later I realized that I should have learned that concept 20 years earlier. In 1957 Raphael Mendez, the great trumpet artist, told me that he solfegges every tone he plays, even in the fastest cadenzas. I thought that was great – and wished that we taught solfege in our schools – but I missed the point of the concept – the same concept I learned from Arnold Jacobs 20 years later.

Since I went to Mr. Jacobs I have always taught the students to think the pitch, use the air and I have never told them to think about the embouchure at all (unless they have a basic flaw in the embouchure). The worst thing you can do is to think about the embouchure!!

Reading the articles you wrote about the book brought back so many memories of how I used to try to control the size of the aperture – and while I think the facts in book are true, I was thinking backwards. I was trying to control the aperture by thinking of the aperture instead of thinking the pitch and letting the brain tell the embouchure what to do to produce that pitch.

Reading what you wrote made me think about all that has happened during the last 35 years or so and how thankful I am that we all have the ability to keep learning and improving and most importantly not ever to stop learning!

I am so grateful to you for all that you wrote about the book and for all you are doing for horn playing and teaching and how lucky we are to have people like you who are doing so much for our art.

Cordially yours,

Bill Robinson

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