Choosing Beginner Horn Players


If you are a band director who tests students out for compatibility on different instruments, here are some things I’ve done – the very most important part is that horn players are tested for being able to distinguish pitches well. I’ll have them do a repeat-after-me singing exercise, sometimes before trying the horn. (Of course if they match pitches badly, I don’t tell them that, only that I think another instrument would probably be a better fit.)

If I am testing a large number of students for horn embouchure compatability and there are a group of kids, I have them all buzz without the mouthpiece first. I’ve found this really helps get a good basic embouchure set right from the start. It’s true it can result in a nasal sound when they get on the horn until the tongue position is lowered a bit, but I’ve found it’s well worth the increase of a good embouchure settings.

If there are extra mouthpieces available I give some to the students who are waiting and have them practice going low and high but not so much they get the muscles tired.

I kneel down and hold the horn for them saving the time of showing them how to hold it. It’s safer for the horn too.

I have them play any note that comes out first and then see if they can match an E and G and middle C. I’ll have them try an A also, using my right thumb to hold down the 1st and 2nd valve at the same time. If they get that well, then B natural and upper C.

If they can get the middle E and G, I think that’s sufficient. Getting the A is good. If they don’t get the middle C, I’m usually not concerned. It’s just a matter of learning to loosen the chops a bit and find the right position (dropping the tongue/jaw more usually does it).

More important than getting the pitches is the embouchure position. The chin should be firm, cheeks not puffed out, and the lip corners Not spreading outward in a smile as they go higher (the lip opening should get smaller as they go higher, not stretched). If a student has been assigned to horn and tends to gravitate to an incorrect embouchure, I send copy of an embouchure picture with them. Sometimes in lessons I’ll give them a $1 (or $2) challenge to come back the next week with a correct embouchure. It’s well worth the $1!

*VERY IMPORTANT*  I test the students ear by having them sing some phrases after me!  If you were to give the students grades for doing that, I would only recommend the students who you might have given an “A” to.  Numerous times, I’ve recommended students that I thought were eager enough to overcome some problems in matching pitches, but have regretted it every time.  If a student has difficulty hearing the difference between notes, they can really struggle on the horn, and another instrument would probably be more rewarding for them. It’s true that learning to hear pitches is an improvable skill, but sometimes they’ll struggle along for years.


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