High Notes, or Why you might need a New Horn or Upgrade Leadpipe

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Nothing can inspire you to practice more than a horn that clearly plays better than what you have been playing. In my case, I have really been enjoying practicing lately as not only does my new horn sound great but also it has the best high range of any double horn I have ever owned, with a GREAT high B-flat in particular. I LOVE playing high B-flat on the new horn. Actually I love playing basically anything on this horn. A better horn is a great inspiration.

While I would like to assume that every horn has a good, full range, if you try a number of horns you can clearly see this is not the case at all. Back in my 8D days I changed the leadpipe out several times but really, I should have just replaced the horn many years ago and I was, looking back, actually told that I needed to get a different horn by a mentor I should have listened to, and that same mentor told me to replace the horn I replaced it with as well. I wish I had a horn like the one I recently switched to years ago.

This leads me to a story of bad high notes from my teaching. The high range is a common concern among hornists. I have some tactics toward working on it with students, every teacher does. One thing I have learned that it pays off to do is to just do a quick test of a student’s horn if there are problems. Sometimes in particular the high B-flat can be squirrely on some horns, especially older Geyer style horns. In this case though I will just say the horn was not Geyer style but the horn had literally the worst high range of any horn I had ever tried. I then handed my horn to the student and they could easily play higher than high C! They had fought the struggle with their horn so hard that actually the student had developed a very strong set of high chops, and when you put that on a horn with a high range that actually works then we suddenly had a killer combination! In this case, the problem was the valves were shot and leaking badly. As a temporary fix, we used lots of valve oil and it helped somewhat, as it sealed up the valves better. The horn badly needed heavy repair on the valves, which was the central problem.

Often a change of leadpipe can help as well. One thing I keep in my office is a vintage Lawson leadpipe bent for an 8D. It gives a good idea of what an upgrade leadpipe can do and often I will have students try it in a similar circumstance, to see if the high range is more stable and produced more easily. Often it is, along with improved articulations in general, etc.

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The big tip here being if you have problems in your high range it is really worth trying other horns and having someone else who is a fine player test your horn if you feel the high range is bad.

University of Horn Matters