Hand surgery

I’d been putting off fixing a painful problem with my right thumb for years but since I’m not in school anymore I decided that now was the time for the surgery. My other reason for choosing the end of November for the surgery was to make sure I was healed by the time warmer weather was back.

I had the surgery on November 21st and came home with a huge bandage and a huge amount of pain. Clearly there was not going to be any horn playing happening for several days at best. Once I got off the really good drugs I decided to give it a try and I discovered that I couldn’t play anything. For one thing my bandaged right hand didn’t fit in the bell so I tried various places on the edge of the bell. Then, no matter where I put my hand, I couldn’t hold any note steady above third space C. I’d start a note and it would wobble all over the place. After about 20 minutes I gave up.

The next day I tried again with pretty much the same results. Now I was getting worried. I had some rehearsal and performance commitments coming up not that far away and I hadn’t expected to have a problem playing. After a few more days of struggling I found a place to put my right hand that seemed to clear up the wobbly note problem and I managed to get thru a rehearsal a few days later reasonably okay.

On December 3rd my doctor removed the bandage and put on a cast. Phew. The cast was smaller and a lot easier to deal with. Little things like screwing my bell on and off the horn became possible with the cast. Again it took me a few days to overcome the wobbly note issue. Now I had to find the best place for my right hand with the cast instead of the bandage. This was a little easier than with the bandage but I never really found the perfect spot. I was still having issues with high notes. I don’t know the physics behind how air moves through the horn and bounces off the right hand but it seemed to me that the cast changed the air flow enough to give me problems both with steady notes and pitch.

Last week, on January 5th, I got the cast replaced with a removable splint. Now I could take it off for showers (yay) and horn playing. Within about 20 minutes my playing was back to normal. What a relief. A couple of days later I started my morning practice routine and I was playing terribly and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. After about 45 really frustrating minutes I looked at my right hand and I had the splint on. I took it off and everything was okay again. Some people have suggested that the changes in my playing were just me playing badly and not from the bandage and then the cast, but I think the air flow changed and that’s why I struggled with wobbly high notes. Next week I won’t need the splint anymore and after some intense physical therapy over the next four weeks I’ll be healed and have a pain free right thumb.

2 thoughts on “Hand surgery

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this blog with us. When I took up low brass again after about a 30 year hiatus, the goal was to be just an adequate player to fill in gaps in the community band. I played tuba, euphonium and 3rd trombone (bass! my favoite) and 1st trombone when the better player was out of town. I now have a horn mouthpiece on its way. I suspect I’m about to be humbled. If I can establish a decent range of buzzing on it, I’ll rent a horn and see how it goes.

    By the way, this YouTube video does a great job explaining the role of the hand in establishing the “length” of the horn. 2:21 and 10:00 minutes in were very interesting to me. One unorthodox way of lightening the horn.

    French Horn Hand Position by Engelbert Schmid Horns

    Take care,



    • Hi Dave,

      I’ve watched the video. I play a Schmid triple these days so I’ve watched most of what is posted if it’s in English. I haven’t found much difference in sound using this hand position compared to the ‘standard’ position but I still try it every couple of days just to see if anything changes. Cutting the hole in the bell was certainly a unique way to demonstrate what’s happening. Good luck with the horn mouthpiece and hopefully a move to the horn!



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