Hornmasters: Even More on the High Range


To close the topic of the high range we have quotes and tips from seven more classic horn texts.

Berv-Creative-Approach-HornHarry Berv in A Creative Approach to the French Horn notes the importance of learning to play in all ranges.

The day of the high or low horn ‘specialist’ is over. Composers today call upon all members of the horn section to play in all registers. To be a well-rounded horn player, consequently, one must play in all registers.

William R. Brophy in his Technical Studies for Solving Special Problems on the Horn points out that “Generally speaking, the more work that can be done with the air stream, the less work there is to do with the lip.”

A slightly different approach to aperture control is proposed in Practical Hints on Playing the French Horn by David Bushouse. He suggests “moving the bottom lip and jaw” to close the embouchure.

Farquharson Cousins brings the air and tongue into play as he notes secrets to the high range in On Playing the Horn. But exactly what he is thinking in regards to the tongue is a bit unclear…. I’m not sure that is how it works really for anyone, certainly he is not describing the “eee” position seen in MRI horn studies, it is more like one of the old school ways of playing which involves “anchor tonguing,” where the tongue is set against the lower teeth and articulations are made further back on the tongue (this article has a bit more on that topic).

The main secret of making high entries is to keep the air pressure dominant to the physical tongue movement. This is only a description, not a scientific statement, as there is no way of correlating the units of energy involved….

It may well be found that the high notes come out most easily and safely when the tongue is braced with its tip curling downwards and pressing forcibly outwards against the inside of the bottom teeth; the sides of the tongue likewise pressing, but against the upper teeth. This is the ‘de’ or ‘doo’ position and the mouth cavity may feel almost non-existent.

Frøydis Ree Wekre in Thoughts on Playing the Horn Well offers a list of “five physical factors that will help improve the high range if they are used correctly.” They are:

1) Quantity and speed of AIR
2) SUPPORT in the lower abdominal area
3) FACIAL MUSCLES, especially inside the mouthpiece and around the lips
4) The TONGUE which may be lifted somewhat towards an ee-position for higher notes. Attention to the sound!
5) PRESSURE (WARNING) is a last resort when everything else is gone or not working…

Let’s look at that list a little closer. Number 4 is very critical and has not yet been mentioned. The MRI horn studies clearly show that in the high register the tongue does go to an “ee” position. This is very consistent among elite horn players and is certainlhy not a “may be” item, it must be lifted to an ee position. This topic is expanded upon much further in Eli Epstein, Horn Playing from the Inside Out

Verne Reynolds notes in The Horn Handbook, that “For young embouchures, the high register is especially sensitive to what and how much one played yesterday and how carefully one warmed up today.”

Finally, Douglas Hill in Collected Thoughts on Teaching and Learning, Creativity, and Horn Performance has an extended discussion of approaches to the high range. The necessary actions for high-range success include:

1. A progressively smaller, more focused aperture opening.
2. A faster, more concentrated airstream.
3. A higher tongue position (more towards the vowel sound eh).
4. A descending airstream (in tandem with No. 3).
5. A slightly descending mouthpipe angle (pressure off the top lip).
6. A focused top lip, with more muscle towards the center (like a beak).
7. Consistently firm (but not tense!) cheek and chin muscles.
8. A bit more mouthpiece pressure anchored on the bottom lip.

Note number 3 on his list, this is a very important point confirmed by the recent MRI studies. Expanding on points three and four above Hill notes that

Directing the airstream downward as if across the chin, combined with progressively higher vowel formations within the oral cavity, always seems to help. The vowel ah may be your desired mid-range setting. Gradually allow the tongue to raise upward but never back towards the throat, into an eh moving towards an ee. Combined with a rapid air stream through and open throat, this change of vowel formation can help to support and secure a relatively strong high range.

And of course descant and triple horns are a part of this discussion, they can certainly enhance security and ease production in the high range. I recently made available (2012) an E-book on the topic, Playing Descant and Triple Horns, which is based on my earlier print publication Playing High Horn. It is available now through Horn Notes Edition. Appropriate used of descant and triple horns is a key element to understand for the very advanced student hornist and young professional.

When we return the topic is the low range.

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