Air Resistance and Slot Placement on a Medlin Horn.

While I have a good education and an enjoyable side career as a horn player, I do not habitually suggest that I have earned the right to tell people how to play horns, even my own horns. You will never hear me say "just practice more", I think that is disrespectful to players who deserve to have their issues addressed sincerely. However, over the years I have noticed a trend in many players initial reaction to my horn's resistance and slot placement. I offer the following not as a rigid methodology, but an explanation for how I made the design decisions that led to my horns' particular playing experience.

“Everyone ends up with roughly the same net amount of resistance if you combine the resistance generated by the horn with that generated by the player’s embouchure.”

-Bob Ward, San Francisco Symphony

One of the best ways to understand the technique for playing one of my horns is to take a look at the teachers and styles that influenced me as a player. Mr. Ward's writing and playing was a huge inspiration to me growing up, his full excerpt is below:

"The issue of resistance is an interesting one. There are many players who prefer a very wide open, free blowing horn with a big sound. I have a theory (with no evidence except my own experience) that in order to play the horn, everyone ends up with roughly the same net amount of resistance if you combine the resistance generated by the horn with that generated by the player's embouchure. To elaborate, what this means is that if you play a big, free blowing horn, with very little resistance, then you yourself must supply a large part of the resistance yourself with your chops. How do people do that? By pinching and impeding the flow of air into the horn inside the mouthpiece. As a result, they have to be incredibly strong, or risk having poor endurance. That's why I think a big horn is harder to play -- because you have to supply the resistance yourself."

 I build horns for players who, like me, want to use an air- based system. These players are looking for a horn that will allow them to relax and blow, giving them an ease and facility rarely found in horns today. It's important to remember that there are two distinctly different kinds of resistance. One kind is a restrictive resistance where the note just won't get any louder, or any easier. One way this is created is when companies try to use a small lead pipe venturi to balance out a lack of acoustic density. A beneficial kind of resistance is acoustic resistance, the synergy you can feel with the standing wave inside the horn. Supportive acoustic resistance narrows the slot of the note and allows you to relax and have the pitch stay solid, rather than dropping flat. Additionally, horns generally feel  more open in larger rooms, so it's important to understand that a horn that is comfortable and open in a small room, maybe be much too large to be comfortable in a hall.

"The better the horn, the easier it is to find and rely on the groove."

-Andrew McAfee, North Carolina Symphony Orchestra

Andrew was my first teacher and the one I return to the most often to understand the outer limits of relaxed playing. I am also grateful to him for continuing to challenge the ceiling for good internal intonation. 

Andrew writes:

"The groove is like a ledge, slot or pocket at the bottom of every note. The better the horn, the easier it is to find and rely on the groove. The feel of the groove, when the air stream is merging with the bottom of the note, is kind of like two magnets opposing each other. There will be a slight resistance or a cushion where the air stream/buzz merges with the bottom of the note. This is the connection to the note and where control is established.... you can rest the center of the lips because the horn is holding the air up to some extent. The notes will then float; you'll hear the most resonant tone, and feel the greatest response from the horn." 

This is a hard quote to expand on, it perfectly captures the experience I am trying to create for horn players. I've found that creating this solid cushion or groove means that much less physical effort is needed to play the horn in tune. Resting on that groove feels amazing, and extends endurance significantly.


September 10, 2017