Though many professional horn players utilize slightly different right-hand positions, all of us can agree that the hand should be inserted far enough into the bell to control tone and pitch without obstructing the bell opening.
The hand needs to be fairly flat, fingers together (think “karate chop”). The back of the fingers should remain in contact with the inside of the bell. Ideally, there should be room for a golf ball or small orange to roll past the hand.
For a smaller student, the thumb or index finger can be aligned inside the bell under the bracket located on the outside of the bell. This serves as a reminder and helps young players easily identify the correct position for their hand.
One helpful beginner tip that my colleague and co-author Janet Nye and I have discovered involves the use of painter’s tape, which can be made into a flap and taped to the inside of the bell. This flap may then be grasped between thumb and index finger, providing a visual and tactile example of the correct hand position.
In addition, be aware that loose-fitting clothing and incorrect body position may also negatively impact sound and intonation. Excess water is also considered an obstruction; take care to empty the horn as often as needed.
Pedagogically, Janet and I generally don’t recommend starting beginners with their hand in the bell. Removing that variable initially allows the student to focus on the more important aspects of playing the horn, such as embouchure, posture, and balance.
After the first few months, we begin to discuss the concept and advantages of inserting the right-hand into the bell. I use a clock-face graphic (see below) to illustrate where the hand should be positioned. This graphic is from our method book, Recipe for Success: a balanced curriculum for young horn players. For the smaller students or those who play with the bell off the leg, a one o’clock(ish) position will probably work best.
Speaking of playing on vs. off the leg: either way is fine, as long as the player is comfortable and the correct leadpipe angle is maintained. A generally acceptable hand position is between one and five o’clock, for most young players.
I hope you’ve found this article to be helpful. Please feel free to leave questions and/or comments below!