SITTING POSITION / HORN ANGLE
The correct sitting position with the horn is VERY IMPORTANT!
It’s very easy to get a faulty horn position that will give you a crooked posture, a bad horn angle and a wrong embouchure.
First rule: sit up STRAIGHT and bring the horn to you!
The horn leadpipe should be angled DOWN from the lip to the music (see pictures.) Rare exceptions, involving players with an underbite, are described at the bottom of this page.
You should look straight over the lead pipe at the music.
You should NOT be looking at the music to the side as you’ll easily get an imbalanced, crooked embouchure.
Most 5th or 6th grade beginners have to adjust for the horn to fit because the horn is generally a bit large to start with. If so, it usually works well for the legs to pivot to the right a bit and the upper body to stay straightforward. This causes the bell to rest on the leg and the leadpipe to angle down as it needs to. A common problem is to have the bell is too far forward on the leg. If you are a beginner, I recommend having someone CHECK THIS for you!
If you are quite short and the horn is too tall to get the correct angle, the bell of the horn can even be rest on the edge of the chair. This can work well but only if the player is sitting up STRAIGHT and not bending down at all to reach the horn.
Taller/older players (around 5’6″ and above) may need to play with the bell OFF THE LEG to avoid hunching over to reach the horn. Bending your back to play is bad for air flow (important!), for your spine being straight, and for the mouthpiece angle (important, see below)
A faulty sitting position can cause a bad horn angle, and even make it almost impossible to form a correct embouchure!
It’s hugely important to get a good angle with the leadpipe (the part of the horn just below the mouthpiece) where it comes down from the lip! Small adjustments of the horn angle can help you play more easily, higher, and with better tone.
I worked with three students in two weeks who changed their horn angle, and their range increased immediately by a fourth, (four scale tones higher)! All three angled the horn down more from the lip. They sounded a lot better and playing the horn was easier for them right away!
Usually, to get an ideal playing angle, it’s best to hold the bell off the leg. However, most 5th and 6th graders aren’t up for the challenge of doing that because the horn can get a bit heavy. Here’s how you find the best angle for the horn bell resting ON the leg:
- Play with the horn bell OFF the leg or standing up.
- Experiment with exactly the best angle of the horn lead pipe to your lip.
- Then (sitting down) play with the bell ON the leg, making the angle as close as possible to your ideal position.
I recommend experimenting to find the optimum angle for you, even if you’ve been playing successfully for some time. The ideal angle is not exactly the same for everyone. You may be able to add a note or two to your range or play more accurately. I found my accuracy to improve significantly when I went from playing on the leg for many years to playing off the leg.
A lot of the time having the ideal bell position means having the bell scooted up closer to your body than what you would tend to do.
Again, older and taller students may need to play with the bell off the leg all the time to get an optimum angle and to avoid hunching down to reach the horn (bad for air support, back alignment, and horn angle).
In the lower range such as around written G below the staff and lower, it is very often helpful to angle the leadpipe upwards more from the moughpiece (not sloping down as much).
If you have a clear under bite with your teeth and jaw, the best angle for you may be with the leadpipe angling Up from your lip. Usually that would be a big problem, but for a small percentage of students it works better. I’ve had a few students with that adjustment that have played well even in the high range.
If you have an overbite, you may need to angle the horn down more than usual. One of the students who increased her range by a fourth after an angle change had a normal looking position but needed to slope the leadpipe significantly farther downward to find the angle that worked best for her.
Sometimes adjustments to the horn itself may be needed if a player has trouble holding up the horn and doesn’t get a good angle because of that. Often the pinky hook (where the left hand pinky grips the horn) is too far away from the mouthpiece, especially for small hands. It’s a relatively quick and inexpensive process at a music repair shop to have the pinky hook moved closer in towards the mouthpiece. Alternately, a hand grip can be ordered that temporarily attaches to the horn using Velcro andalso adds to security in playing. These are found at Osmun.com or Poperepair.com and are about $30 with shipping added in.
(more detail below)
More advanced players who own their instrument should consider attaching a permanent lever to the horn. Besides just getting a better angle, it can really help one hold the horn more securely and play better. About 65% of the professional players I know have a lever like this installed. Ken Pope carries a really good one made by Alexander Horns which is soldered on, as most are, but is very adjustable. A good detailed comparison of these levers or straps is found on John Ericson’s website, hornmatters.com.
The position of the mouthpiece on the lips is very important. The mouthpiece should be resting and have more weight on the lower lip of the embouchure instead of the\ upper lip! This allows the top lip to vibrate and change notes freely. If your top lip has the mouthpiece angled in on it so that there is pressure on the top lip, I would strongly urge you to try changing the angle! A sloping up with too much pressure on the top lip makes it difficult to get high notes at all. Sometimes the problem is bad enough that instead of the top lip vibrating, the bottom lip vibrates. Some players struggle for years to play the horn under these conditions.
*Further details for the occasional student with the leadpipe angling up: I believe the key point is that there should not be extra pressure on the upper lip. It’s worth checking the air direction especially as you go higher that it is angling down and not up. This can be checked by using a mouthpiece rim. Handily, we have something we can use as a mouthpiece rim – on our second valve slide there is a ring that helps us pull out the slide. You can buzz high and low on that as though you were playing and use your spare hand to feel what direction the air is going in different registers. Philip Farkus published a book called A Photographic Study of 40 Virtuoso Horn Players’ Embouchures. In it, 39 out of 40 players’ air streams angled down in the high register. Most angled sharply down, some not as much. There was one player whose air angled upwards – usually this is something that very much limits range and progress but that one player made things work well for him.