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Regular readers will know already that I am very interested in the recent (and still ongoing) MRI horn studies led by Dr. Peter Iltis of Gordon College, in conjunction with the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, Germany. Real-time magnetic resonance imaging (RT-MRI) technology has, for the first time, allowed a clear view of the soft tissue motions involved in horn playing.
This is a big deal because many of the specifics of the mechanics and motions of the tongue and throat in horn playing were not understood until very recently; we now have important, empirical information to reference, rather than the visualizations found in most publications to date.
I have highlighted elements of these game-changing studies in my recent online writings, in conference presentations, and in podcast episodes last summer, as I work to bring them to a wider audience. For example, my most recent conference presentation, given at the Southwest Horn Conference, was titled “Ten Insights you can apply to your playing from the MRI Horn Studies.”
I was asked not long ago by a student if I have a recording of that presentation, and I do not. However, I can share a few notes (which I also shared with that student) to get anyone interested in the topic going the right direction, and I recorded a new podcast that covers the main points of the recent presentation.
As to resources and links, first, these are the underling published journal articles on the current studies:
- “Real-time MRI comparisons of brass players: A methodological pilot study” (Human Movement Science, 2015)
- “High-speed real-time magnetic resonance imaging of fast tongue movements in elite horn players” (Quantitative Imaging in Medicine and Surgery, 2015)
- “Inefficiencies in Motor Strategies of Horn Players with Embouchure Dystonia” (Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 2016)
A notable predecessor study worth referencing, using X-ray technology, was documented in Trumpet Technique by Frank Gabriel Campos (Oxford University Press, 2005). Also, the high-speed videos of trombone lip motion done by H Lloyd Leno and also X-ray trumpet and horn videos can be found easily on YouTube. The results of that latter X-ray study were published, and may be found here:
- “A Cinefluorographic Investigation of Brass Instrument Performance,” Lyle C. Merriman and Joseph A. Meidt, Journal of Research in Music Education, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Spring, 1968), pp. 31-38
Of course, there is an actual YouTube channel with the two official MRI horn videos on it, and also the Sarah Willis videos as well. The official ones are here:
One book has incorporated principals discovered in these studies, reviewed here:
I also did a three-part podcast interview with Dr. Iltis last year: part I is here:
These studies are ongoing, and I know new things are being addressed in the current protocols. It can’t be stated too strongly: these studies are vitally important to the future of horn pedagogy. Elements of my teaching have certainly changed in the past ten years with the influence of the studies mentioned above. In particular, the MRI studies have caused me to go back to my book in progress and begin to work through each chapter, comparing conventional wisdom approaches to ones that accurately reflect physiological realities. Hopefully others will also see the importance of the studies and think out the same connections, taking horn pedagogy into the 21st century. It is time!