I’ve been trying to figure out why my sound has changed and become brighter than I like since the summer. I had what I thought was a nice sound when I managed to put all the pieces together and play well. When I started school last September my new horn teacher, Jeanine, began working with me on using air better (plus a slew of other things) and as that evolved my sound got brighter and edgier. My husband and several friends have told me that I sound more like a trombone than a horn. Jeanine worked on my playing position and that improved the sound a bit but really not enough. Other than that we put the sound issue aside for a while since there were plenty of other problems to work on.
Since the spring semester started Jeanine and I have been trying all sorts of things to improve my sound. One of the first things we did was to test mouthpieces. We did a ‘blind’ test – she didn’t know what mouthpiece I was using as she listened – and we did make a change that gave my horn a slightly warmer and darker sound but the change was subtle.
I still wasn’t that happy so we started testing horns with a possible outcome that I would buy another horn. One of Jeanine’s other students loaned me an E series Elkhart Conn 8D. The sound was closer to what I was looking for and it seemed really easy to play. Unfortunately it needs to have the valves redone. From what I understand about valves, which isn’t very much, as they get leaky and lose compression the slots get bigger to the point where there really isn’t a slot anymore. This makes the horn seem easier to play, at least to me, but brings with it a host of other problems so, sadly, I gave that horn back.
Just a few weeks ago I went to see the teacher that I took lessons with over the summer and we spent several hours testing something close to a dozen horns. One of the first things she said was that she didn’t like how I sounded on my horn. However, as I played all of the different horns she noticed that something ‘wonky’ was happening to my sound in the middle register and this was happening on all the horns. Her wise suggestion was to work on fixing that problem before making any equipment changes. (Thank you Debbie!)
I told this to Jeanine and she agreed that now is not the time to switch horns. She did give me another mouthpiece which made a much bigger difference to my sound than any of the other mouthpieces I tried. Then we started working on my ‘wonky’ middle register and trying to get the best sound I could out of my horn. At my lesson the other day I think I finally got it. As usual, it’s all about air. I was taking in plenty of air but I wasn’t controlling it well and I wasn’t pushing out nearly enough air through the horn. I’ve only played for a few hours since my lesson but I am much happier with my sound as well as my playing in general.
The downside to all this testing is that I feel much less prepared for my upcoming jury exam on May 6th than I was last semester. Hopefully, since I have had somewhat of a breakthrough with air due to all of this work on sound, I will be able to catch up in the next two weeks.