Horn Pedagogy Week 1: Choosing the Mouthpiece and Horn

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Following up on the introductory article to this series (read it first!), the initial topic of this course is choosing the mouthpiece and horn.

There are a number of readings this week, but most of them are short and this first series of articles (below) from the Hornmasters series is frankly rather dated; feel free to quickly skim these. If you start at the first of those articles there will always be links to the next article in the readings.

So, I threw out a criticism just now about these writings from classic horn methods being dated. One thing to really think about as the course continues is reading with a critical eye. Books published years ago, even if by great horn experts of the past, will become dated in many ways as knowledge moves forward.

With mouthpieces especially there is a big side topic to consider, and that is that most of the mouthpieces people used 50 years ago were really not that good. People made them work, of course, and there were some fine pieces put out by real craftsmen, but a big limiting factor was the technology available. Now, right now, you can buy some of the best mouthpieces ever made due to CNC lathes. They are absolutely up to spec; older lines, hand made in the traditional ways, they were almost never up to absolute specs — and thousandths of an inch matter when you are talking mouthpieces.

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While commenting about mouthpieces it is also worth noting that the older sources don’t generally recognize the impact of differing inner diameters and also don’t at all comment on the distance that the mouthpiece fits into a leadpipe. Some players and teachers did understand these topics — Verne Reynolds for example would send students to a particular repairman in Rochester when I was in school in the mid 1980s to have that person adjust the mouthpiece shank size to improve playing qualities — but this type of information was not widely known, it was just a black magic known to very few insiders. Today is a golden age for horns and mouthpieces.

There will also be readings from the Horn Articles Online website. The first one we have touches on several of the topics covered in the readings above,

And also review briefly the topic of “Geyer or Kruspe” here:

The drawing of a mouthpiece is from another article by Bruce Hembd on choosing a French horn mouthpiece that is also highly worthy of review, along with any link of interest there. Equipment is a big topic and one that could be examined for an entire semester if we wished to.

To close, some questions to consider in relation to the readings include:

  • What were the typical setups used in the USA in the 1950s?
  • What are typical setups today in the USA? Worldwide?
  • What would be a good setup for an average student or amateur today?
  • Are people who advocate for the single F horn for beginners stuck in the 1950s?
  • What are the advantages of a thick rim? A thin rim? A gold rim?
  • Which of the numbers and letters of common mouthpiece models are arbitrary, and which actually relate to physical dimensions?

There will be yet more related to equipment to study and talk out next week when we get to descant and triple horns and more!

This is week 1 of a fourteen week course in horn pedagogy. The introductory article is here, and the series is presented for the educational purposes of our readers. 

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