FAQ for Band Directors

1. What characteristics do I look for in choosing which students will play horn?

Bright students who have an excellent ear will be a good fit. Helpful physical characteristics include: a normal bite and the ability to form a pointed tongue. An overbite is okay, but an underbite should be avoided. Thinner lips with a teardrop are preferable. Bigger lips may require a larger diameter mouthpieces that has a thinner rim.

2. How should my horn players be seated in an ensemble?

Seat your more experienced players with their bells facing the less experienced players. This allows the less experienced students to benefit from the tone, accuracy, and tuning of the stronger players. Also, it is ideal to have a reflective surface behind the horns (i.e. shield, shell, wall) so they can hear themselves and project.

a diagram showing where to seat horn players in a band

3. What is the best type of mute to purchase for my school program?

If your budget allows, purchase a set of straight mutes and brass (stopped mutes). Straight mutes are the most commonly requested and do not need transposition when played. Stopped mutes require the player to transpose 1/2-step down, using F horn fingerings. Stopped horn is indicated with a + (plus sign) and may also be played by inserting the right hand all the way in and covering the bell.

4. What is the best tuning note for horn?

If playing a double horn, it is important to tune both sides of the horn. Have students play second line G (F horn) and then third space C (Bb horn).

5. Is is ok to start beginners on a single F or single Bb horn?

First choice is a double horn so the ideal fingerings can be used from the beginning. If the player is very young, a single horn can be a nice lighter option. In the United States, a single F horn is the best choice because the beginner range is parallel with the F horn range on the double horn.

6. Should my students play on or off the knee?

This question is usually answered based on what will best contribute to a successful downward leadpipe angle, which keeps excess pressure off the top lip. Sometimes young students prefer the stability of playing on the leg, but the right leg must be placed far enough to the right to keep the leadpipe angle down. If they struggle to keep the leadpipe angle correct, playing off the leg for a while can allow a proper angle to develop.

7. When should my student switch from a single to a double horn?

It is preferable to switch to a double horn as soon as one is available, ideally no later than the second year of playing. The double horn harmonics are more spread out, which allows for easier playing and better accuracy in the upper register.

8. How do I encourage a student with braces?

If a student has learned to play without braces and then added them later, it will be more frustrating for them. There is an adjustment as the braces go on as well as when they come off. Although the addition of bumpers or wax can sometimes be beneficial in minimizing pain, most students prefer playing without them.Have them avoid extra pressure, relying more on firm corners and air to help aid in their note production. It is very common for a player with braces to gradually develop into an embouchure set-up that is too low, with a leadpipe angle that is too high. It is better to encourage them to slide the mouthpiece rim above the braces than allow it to slip down. The downward angle and flat chin should be maintained as the teeth are being corrected.

9. Should we start our beginners on trumpet and then switch them to horn?

Although this can be unavoidable in some school districts, it is not advised. A successful embouchure set-up on trumpet or cornet is very different from the one for horn and therefore makes it difficult to switch without adjusting the basic concept of playing.

10. If beginners start on cornet and later switch to the horn, what kinds of things do I need to do to help them be successful?

If you know in advance that the student will be switching, then have them begin with a mouthpiece placement that is slightly high, and encourage them to play with a downward leadpipe. Look for players that are doing this naturally on the trumpet or cornet, as it would make an easier switch. Learning to relax the center of the aperture and developing a characteristic horn embouchure (2/3 upper lip placement and a downward leadpipe angle) are the most important things to monitor.

Source: Recipe for Success, Chapter 9, pages 250-252