I read a lot of journals, and not just horn journals. Sometimes you find really interesting stuff in, say Scientific American, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, Guitar Player, Popular Science, and so on.

I just came upon an amazing new finding in the American Journal of Acoustic Research that just might revolutionize brass playing. Recent findings from the Acoustic Research Lab at the University of Duluth led by Dr. Franklin Spassvogel indicates that significant gains in powerful and accurate playing were possible when the player was playing inverted vis-a-vis normal playing position. The lab constructed a specially built harness to examine the effect of the angle of playing (not just the instrument, but the head, neck, and breathing apparatus – i.e the whole body). The startling results were that the normal, completely upright position of playing was the least effective position for powerful accurate playing.

The trials were conducted noting the exact tilt in degrees of the harness so that the effects of the angle could be detailed down to the whole degree and compared to find the most effective angle (there were actually two harnesses built for this test, one for trumpet, horn, and trombone, and one just for tuba). In short, scientists found that the greater the angle of the tilt (up to 180°), the better the results. An inverted position is on the face of it not very comfortable, but the harness was constructed so that the entire weight of the instrument was borne by the apparatus, which minimized any possible discomfort.

Dr. Spassvogel reports that the next step is to interpret the results so that they are practical use to performing musicians. “In my opinion,” quoting from a long interview in the Acoustic Research Journal, “The best possible use of these findings will be for making recordings. The visual aspect of the harness may distract at concerts, but there are no such drawbacks in recording. Even virtuoso players will be astonished at how much more endurance, range, power, accuracy, and control of dynamics are possible with this harness, which has yet to be named. There are may be special occasions where supreme accuracy or a composition that makes nearly impossible demands will require the use of our harness. We fully expect the use of the harness to become standard in the film music industry, although not so much for symphony concerts. However, the use of the harness for a soloist may even be an attraction for classical audiences that have grown bored and restless with standard concert fare. We are in consultation with a firm that makes hospital beds and gymnastics apparatus to produce a commercially available model. These will not be especially cheap; we expect to market them mainly to large organizations, like universities and symphony orchestras. We have had inquiries from pop and rock musicians as well, who are very interested in using them in rock concerts, although they have supplementary demands that will take extra time to incorporate, such as flashing programmed lights, smoke producers, and a faster motor to change the angle of tilt, that sort of thing.”

Dr. Spassvogel reports that the harness takes some getting used to, but the results are so spectacular that the physical adjustment is a small price to pay. “Once a player has sampled the results of playing in our harness with adjustable tilt, they are invariably reluctant to return to their old upright position.”

Why does use of the harness to achieve altered positioning work? Preliminary research seems to indicate that the inverted position favors power and accuracy because of the added force of the bloodstream in the head and face, refreshing and vitalizing the embouchure as well as sharpening cognitive function in the brain (i.e. focus on the process). Lung capacity also seems to benefit from the fulling inverted position without the weight of internal organs to counteract. Dr. Spassvogel indicates research is this area is only in the beginning stages, but the results are so promising that they are extended and expanding research activities to reap further benefits. There is also speculation that the positive results may carry over to other fields. The Lab is considering further studies of this nature in the fields of dentistry, psychology, philosophy, even, Dr. Spassvogel says, “for military long range snipers.”

Really big changes in the way brass instruments are played come along very seldom. We  may be on the cusp of some truly momentous changes.

If you are interested in a demonstration of the harness at your institution or in participating in test groups (which receive handsome honoraria for taking part), contact Dr. Spassvogel at

And if you are really looking to get better at your instrument, probably the best thing is to get back in the practice room. Reading an April Fool’s joke article makes a nice break, though.   ;   >

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