On Oral Cavity Shape and Pitch Level


Recently on the Horn People group a question was posted that related to pitch centering, and what it was getting at I believe was the question of how could pitch level be different between different players playing on the same horn? It is a good question and a ways down into the thread (it had gotten sidetracked by then) I posted my brief response:

This may have been mentioned above but going back to the original question the answer has to do with oral cavity shape variables (including the throat but also tongue position) and also the cup volume of the mouthpiece.

To the other answers given, yes, it can have something to do with your embouchure and how you center the pitch. But that centering location is also driven by your oral cavity shape. The results being:

  • High on pitch—too closed, tongue too high, throat too closed; sound has harsh edge.
  • Low on pitch—the opposite, too low tongue, often “toe” or “taw” in all ranges instead of moving naturally to “tee” ascending; sound has dull quality.

I would point readers who are interested to dig into this more to two articles in Horn Matters.


The second article above contains this quote from Fred Fox:

The throat must be open at all times when playing. The sound should have a constant flowing, singing quality. This can only be accomplished if the throat remains open. A tight throat creates a bottleneck in the vibrating column of air from the lips down to the chest cavity…. This bottleneck can be heard in the sound just as surely as it would be heard if there were a large dent on one of the pipes of the brass instrument. Removing the dent opens the sound. Learning how to keep the throat open opens the sound just as effectively.

If this is a topic you need to dig into you might want to track down and check the Fred Fox book for more. The most relevant quotes on the topic, believe it or not, are not actually on Horn Matters. My hope is always that you the reader will seek the original sources out.

Problems with the approach to the oral cavity are not uncommon and students tend to just be used to how they sound without knowing it is maybe the biggest problem they have. I think another bottom line is many teachers either don’t understand the topic or are afraid to address it. It is one of those elephants in the room they try to talk around. They may also adopt the solution of trying to only accept students who have great natural talent who have no issues at all in this area.

I have more on this whole topic in this article

and could say more but will leave it there. It is a topic area I will address further in my “big book.” Which is a reason I have not been posting as much on Horn Matters lately, but seeing topics such as this in the Horn People group reminds me yet again of topics I need to be sure to not be afraid to address clearly.

University of Horn Matters