is stopped horn?
Stopped horn is a technique of "muting" the horn with
the right hand. It gives a unique sound, so that simply using a mute
isn't really the same thing. Stopping also gives the horn player a lot
more control over the actual sound than any manufactured mute ever
When should I play stopped?
In most of the music that is published for band the indication will be in English. It will simply say "stopped" where you start, and "open" where you begin to play normally again. If there are only a few notes, sometimes it is simply indicated with a plus sign (+) over the notes to be stopped. If it says stopped and has plus signs it just means the publisher wanted to make sure you saw it. You will also sometimes see the German indication "gestopft" or the French word "bouché" for stopped. The terms for returning to your normal hand position are open, "offen" (G), and "sons naturels" (F). Do not be confused by the French word "cuivre," which means brassy. It is often found in stopped passages which are played loud, brassy, and stopped, but you can play "cuivre" open too.
do we do it?
There are 2 "tricks" to playing stopped horn. The first is getting the bell completely closed, and using enough air to get the right sound. It should sound a little nasal. Play a nice comfortable mid-range note while slowly closing off the bell with your right hand. If you have a good right-hand position you should be able to do this by simply swinging the palm of your hand across the bell. The pitch will get flatter and flatter, then it will suddenly "flip" up when the bell is completely closed. If it doesn't do this, you either need to to cut off more of the air that is leaking past your hand, or blow more air.
That brings us to the second trick. Because it doesn't flip up to the note you started playing using the right fingering will require a little transposition. You will always be guaranteed a fingering that will work if you play on the F side of your horn, and use the fingering for the note that is a half step lower than the written note. There are alternate fingerings, and as you get into the upper register there are quite a few Bb fingerings that work for most notes, but one half step down on the F side will work every time.
Why do we transpose stopped horn?
For those of you that are curious about the physics, no, you aren't cutting enough length off the horn with your hand to make it play a half step higher. The actual explanation is a lot more complex than that. There is a good basic explanation of this in an article by B. Lee Roberts ("Some Comments on the Physics of the Horn and Right-Hand Technique." The Horn Call 6, no. 2 (1976): 41-46), and even more involved explanations in some articles in scientific journals.
The real answer is that we don't actually transpose, it's just easier to think of that way, but only if you play entirely on the F side of the horn. If you play with normal open fingerings while stopping the bell you will always be at least a half step out of tune (3/4 of a step on the Bb side) and often much farther.
What about stopping mutes?
There are metal stopping mutes available that stop off the bell for you, but you still have to support the sound and find the right fingering. I've always kind of thought of them as cheating, but there are a few spots with extremely loud stopped notes are written below middle C where I've broken down and used one. The big disadvantages of the mutes are that they don't allow you to have nearly as much control over the sound, and you have to have time to put them in and take them out. Because there is so little movement of the right hand to change between open and stopped, composers often don't allow time for the mute change. Besides, this is not a difficult technique to learn, and becoming good at this will improve your control of the horn considerably.
1. Close the bell completely with your right hand.
2. Play on the F side of the horn (no trigger) finger a half step below the written note.
Next Week - Transposition