Anatomy of a Gadget Collection: An Overview of 21 Geeky Items and Products


Thinking outside the box is an expression that I take to heart when striving for improvement on the French horn.

While this pursuit does have its limitations, there is no harm in trying out new things that look interesting and seem logical in their intent and purpose.

Under the guise to make horn-playing sound and feel easier, I will give most things a try – at least once. Over the years then, I have acquired a small collection of gadgets and widgets; some are fairly conventional and have been around a while, while others are relatively new and unheard of.

Here is a list of all the gadgets and products pictured above; some of them have already been reviewed here at Horn Matters – those items are linked to reviews.

Most of these items have conventional uses, but within context some are used for less conventional purposes.

The missing links

So now, the items and gadgets that do not have Horn Matters reviews are pictured and listed below.

These items are:

  • B.E.R.P.
  • Breathing tube
  • Cleaning brushes
  • Foam earplugs
  • Incentive spirometer
  • Marvel Lubricating Oil
  • PowerLung
  • Silent Brass mute

Notes on the missing links

While the main purpose of this article was to give only a broad overview of the horn gadgets I own, here are a few thoughts on some of the “missing link” items that do not currently have Horn Matters reviews to point to.

When these devices first came out some 25 years ago,  the sentiment in my personal circle was that it was an interesting gimmick, but not something that would be of regular use. Since that time, B.E.R.P.s have stood the test of time and have become fairly commonplace.

Breathing tube
About ten years ago I became addicted to breathing exercises and especially those spelled out in the Breathing Gym books. From the local hardware store, a short length of PVC tubing helps as a funnel of sorts, to channel inhalations in a way that gives the feeling of a rush of air into the lungs.

Extra cleaning brushes
Recently I picked up a nice set of cleaning brushes at my local auto parts store. They were packaged as a Spray Gun Cleaning Kit. The long brushes are perfect for cleaning long horn tubes. This set was priced at around $5.

Foam earplugs
For regular hearing protection I swear by my custom earplugs but in some situations I still use the old foam earplugs – for another purpose entirely. While warming before rehearsals in very loud environments – such as an orchestra pit – I will use foam earplugs in order to hear myself.

Rather than trying to compete with the surrounding din of activity and playing loudly, I will slip in foam earplugs (and also sometimes a mute) and calmly listen to the horn sounds that resonate inside my head.

Incentive spirometer
The incentive spirometer is a breath measurement device. I purchased mine many years while working and studying in Chicago.

These devices come in several shapes and flavors but they are all intended to help with improving the function of the user’s lungs. The basic feature for horn players to pay attention to is the small white ball inside its plastic housing.

This ball acts as a great visual cue for steady and smooth air flow. I use mine mostly for gauging air flow during mouthpiece practice – holding it upside down and inserting the mouthpiece directly into the breathing tube.

The incentive spirometer is a great visual tool for monitoring a steady buzz, one that flows evenly between-the-notes. The general trick is to sustain that little white ball as you buzz (or blow), without letting it drop between notes.

I have decorated mine with horizontal lines, drawn with magic marker on the main tube. These lines act as registration marks that represent different air speeds and intensities. Progress is measured by successfully sustaining the ball at those measured height levels.

Marvel Lubricating Oil
While on a cross-country trip a few years back I found this random brand of oil at a truck stop. It is a lubricant that works perfectly for areas needing heavy oil.

Worth mentioning too is that this large container will most likely last until I pass onto the grave. And, it is priced at a fraction of the cost of specialty lubricants marketed specifically for the French horn.

The PowerLung is the newest addition to the gadget collection. In a nutshell, it creates measured and adjustable resistance for both the inhalation and exhalation cycles when doing breathing exercises. After several days of trial I am already seeing its benefits.

So far, I am liking this device a lot and am very excited about it. Look for a more complete Horn Matters review in the near future.

Silent Brass mute
Besides for its obvious purpose – silent practicing – I use my Silent Brass mute for warming up in performance for entrances that have been preceded by a long period of rest.

In my current gig as acting principal in a production of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice for example, there are very long periods of rest between entrances. The Silent Brass allows for a few warm-up notes to be played without being detected.

And, with the addition of the foam earplugs as mentioned earlier, I can actually hear those notes in my head without disturbing the concert or my colleagues.

University of Horn Matters