More on “clicks” — and the best horns

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Last year a topic touched upon in an article was that of “clicks” and valve changes. In that time frame, I started taking some really extensive notes on the topic — and the notes, honestly, got out of control, so much so that there is no way to develop a full article. But it remains an important topic to consider as you think about what elements make for a great horn.

One thing I have observed is every horn with rotary valves seems to have clicks of some sort on at least a couple note connections, if you really search for them. The cause of the clicks is what I learned from a maker are acoustical “transients” that may occur at the beginning of a note. Makers work to manage these through brace placement, etc., but they are also impacted by mouthpiece choice too. These transients will occur at different places on horns of different designs.

Horn making, in short, really is a black art. Below are some bullet points on the topic from my notes, hopefully of help as you consider what exactly makes a great horn.

  • One horn I loved [Knopf wrap] except for the connection between F-G on the bottom space. Huge click there, if fingered on the F horn! But using Bb horn fingerings there was no click at all.
  • But that big click was not as noticeable with different mouthpieces.
  • Some clicks reflect slight synchronization issues of the fingers, usually thumb and third valve not moving at the same time. (As in going from 2 to T23, F# to G# for example)
  • Another horn felt hopelessly clicky on any mouthpiece I tried and I have a lot. But then I found one that made it play beautifully! Clicks? Almost totally gone. It was amazingly striking. Horn went from almost unusable to very usable.
  • Meanwhile, another horn I liked was terrible on that same mouthpiece, very clicky.
  • Had a very interesting time comparing Knopf and Geyer wrap models made by the same maker. They had used the same tapers and the same valve maker on both horns but the difference in sound and playing quality feel was fairly substantial. And entirely attributable to the overall wrap and brace placements, including the soldered longer joints in different spots
  • “Connections” seems to be the term that works best with my students. They can feel when they are better or worse, if there is something that breaks the connection they can feel it relatively. Notes that are connected well are the opposite of notes that have distinct clicks between them.
  • I see people audition on strange, poor choice mouthpieces all the time. Jupiter mouthpieces, Holton, Bach even. Their teachers have really let them down. I can always pull out a mouthpiece that feels vastly better for them to try.
  • Mouthpiece receiver fit can make a huge difference in terms of clicks too.
  • Looking at horns from this angle, the topic of note connections has changed some of my general thinking on horns for sure. Not only should the horn with better connections sound better but you should be more accurate on it as well.

BONUS: Editing this article I was intrigued by the note that led to the bullet “Another horn felt hopelessly clicky on any mouthpiece I tried and I have a lot. But then I found one that made it play beautifully! Clicks? Almost totally gone. It was amazingly striking. Horn went from almost unusable to very usable.” It was a mouthpiece I used in the past — for quite a few years, actually — but I knew when tried most recently with the new horn I felt that the intonation was really goofy, going very flat in the high range to be specific. But my enthusiasm in those notes intrigued me, so I got it out again. High range very flat — initially! But actually I got used to it in maybe ten minutes, intonation returned to normal and things feel like home. A week later it still feels nice, like the old friend it is, and I like the extra smoothness it gives. So I will keep experimenting, and the point to make to any reader that has made it this far into this topic is that some mouthpieces may feel goofy initially but might just be the solution if you give them a chance.