Thursday Topics: Hand Position


Today we have three short topics, all related to right hand position.

The Beauty Queen and the Puppet 

In the summers at the Interlochen Arts Camp I have had the honor of teaching this past two summers with someone I have known for years, Kelly Drifmeyer. She followed me at the Crane School of Music as horn professor and has a great way of describing right hand position to music educators that I had not heard before.

She describes it as the beauty queen wave position. How it works is that you imagine you are a beauty queen or a royal and put your hand in the position they use when waving to a crowd. Say “Hello” with a British accent for extra inspiration. Your hand will naturally fall in the correct general position for horn playing, with the thumb in the right place. Try it!

As to the incorrect way to shape the hand, the example she uses is the puppet hand position. Imagine you are putting your hand in a puppet. You will open up a big hole between your thumb and your palm, as if to make the puppet talk. This hole must be avoided when playing horn.

In short, beauty queen is the correct hand shape for the hand in the bell, not the puppet!

A Scientific Study

For something a little deeper on hand position, with a hat tip to the Horn People list a few months ago, take a look at this 2010 paper on right hand position and mutes. The title gets at this being a real scientific study: “The effect of hand and mute on the impedance spectra of the horn.” From the abstract,

The effects of different horn players’ hand shapes and positions, and the effects of different mutes were quantified by the input impedance spectrum Z and related to players’ and listeners’ perceptions. Z was measured using a three microphone, two calibration technique for combinations of a horn with three different hands, four different practice mutes and representative fingerings, complete for some sets. The hands were casts of real players’ hands which could be reinserted with a typical reproducibility in the magnitude and frequency of peaks in Z of 0.1 dB and 0.4 Hz rms variation in independent measurements. Different hand configurations showed reproducible, measurable changes in Z, with an rms difference in the amplitude and frequency of the impedance peaks 1 to 20 of up to 0.8 dB and 0.6 Hz, respectively. The relative magnitudes and the harmonicity of the peaks were measurably different for practice mutes compared to that for an average hand. Frequency differences in the Z spectrum correlated well with player’s perceptions of the intonation of the instrument.

Whew! There is a lot packed into this short paper (read it all at the link) but in very short you certainly want a hand in the bell for the instrument to play well and a practice mute is quite a bit different than a hand in the bell in terms of impedance measurements.

An Unscientific Comment

Finally, a comment my mom recalled hearing after one of my performances on a community band concert. She was told that they “would hear John better if he took his hand out of the bell.”