Simple/compact/casual backup instrument for brass player?

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by MatthewVanitas, Sep 7, 2014.

  1. MatthewVanitas

    MatthewVanitas New Friend

    Aug 25, 2007
    I had a hard time thinking of a title for this thread, but here's my situation:
    • I want to buy a gift for a younger cousin, who currently fairly seriously plays French horn for high school
    • I want to get her something that's easier to carry around than a French horn, more durable and with less fragile keywork and such bits. Kind of like what the xaphoon/bamboo sax is to saxophone players, or the chalmeau to clarinet (especially since cast-plastic chalumeau are out for €35 now)
    • I'd like it to be some instrument that's conducive to informal playing; I've had other relatives who were into playing music in formal settings, but had no ability to jam, improvise, etc. I'd love to get her something she could haul around casually, and use to jam with friends who play guitar and the like. As a parallel, her sister plays classical silver flute, so I got her a small plastic Irish "band flute"/fife so it could be chucked in a backpack without the worries of keywork, and conducive to just sitting in the park and playing around solo or with friends. I just want to encourage her to not get stuck in a "music is the thing you do sitting in a chair staring at sheet music at clearly scheduled times", move her to more organically moving music into her life.
    • I'd like to keep the gift under $300 in value

    For a bit I was pondering some kind of primitive brass-embouchured instrument with fingerholes rather than keywork, simple solid body. But about all I could find that's anything like that is the Renaissance zink/cornetto (not cornet), and the Scandinavian vallhorn (which is cool but I think too primitive). Cornetto seems pretty approachable, and there is a UK shop making them in cast-resin very affordably, but at £190 (US$300) they're right at the top of my price range. Here's a good clip of one solo: What is a cornett and how does it sound - YouTube


    Vallhorn are cheaper at $170 for wooden copies, but seems more primitive in the embouchure, probably too niche an option. Though this guy makes it sound pretty cool: Vallåt - YouTube

    A few other ideas I've had:
    • I could get her one of those plastic trumpets that several companies have made, which would be easy to carry around, but not hugely compact (compared to say an Irish tinwhistle), and I imagine a little louder than one wants for jamming with a guitar-playing friend in a living-room.
    • I could get her a used cornet off eBay; at least relatively more compact than a French horn, maybe a little more durable. They're softer than trumpet, yes? Maybe with a mute would it be appropriate for casual play and jamming?
    • I thought briefly of things like didgeridoo, Hawaiian bamboo trumpet, etc. but they aren't really melodic instruments
    • The easiest/cheapest/smallest option would be to just give up on embouchure issues and get a fipple-flute instrument (since those have an extremely easy embouchure). So I could just get her a decent Irish tinwhistle, or a good ocarina. Both instruments that are easier to play just hanging around the house, play along with a friend, etc.

    Any options I'm overlooking? Any input as to what would make a good gift for a teenage brass player to encourage her towards more casual and intuitive music?
    Whatever idea seems good, I'll certainly run it by her first to see if she thinks it's something she would use, but I thought best to survey some serious brass players for ideas.
  2. musicalmason

    musicalmason Forte User

    Dec 14, 2003
    For $300 you could buy a very solid, student model cornet is very good condition. I would think this would encourage your cousin to continue learning techniques and skills that are actually useable on her primary instrument. A primitive cornetto or other finger holed instrument can be fun, but not nearly as practical IMO. Also in my opinion, these primitive instruments are not "intuitive" as you say. Hardly something you could just pick up and play easier than a modern cornet. Truely a beast all their own. So, take that for what you will.
  3. Ed Lee

    Ed Lee Utimate User

    Aug 16, 2009
    Jackson NC
    First IMO you're treading upon very sensitive grounds that could well dissolve whatever personal respect she has for you. I would query her on what genre of music she likes before thrusting other genres upon her lips. That said, all the other brass instruments are keyed right handed and there is a great difference in the embouchure from that of a French horn and the transition to one of these may impair that which she has presently developed for the French horn, not that it is impossible, but takes years for accomplished development.

    As forewarned, for compactness you might consider a pocket trumpet.
  4. Vulgano Brother

    Vulgano Brother Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 23, 2006
    Parts Unknown
  5. MatthewVanitas

    MatthewVanitas New Friend

    Aug 25, 2007
    Oddly enough, an online friend of mine bought one of those, with the intent to learn hunting and military horn calls as a hobby. Interesting choice of his.

    But for the cousin, I considered various "natural trumpets", but since they're not particularly melodic, nor suited to indoor use, I'm not sure it'd really add to her scope. Unless she, like my friend, wanted to hang around outside playing harmonic sequences.

    Cornet seems one of the easiest brass solutions, while still being accessible/affordable yet slightly off the beaten path. Is a cornet with a mute down at a decent indoor volume, compatible with other instruments like guitar?

    Ed does raise some interesting concerns as to whether it's too close to French horn and would cause interference with those skills. Would not pocket trumpet have just the same confusion risks though? Also as cute as pocket trumpets are, apparently they're kinda finnicky from what I've read on old threads of this forum (when I once considered getting one after seeing one used at a gig), and I'd have to pay at least $500 to get an okay one.

    If we were to stray from brass, my sense is she'd still want to stick with a wind instrument, and tinwhistle and ocarina seem the most reasonable choices for those. Compact and durable, easy to wrap up with a sock and jam in a backpack. Yet avoids moving parts like a reed instrument, or tricky embouchure like wooden flutes.
  6. edfitzvb

    edfitzvb Forte User

    Jun 10, 2008
    Woodlawn, VA
    How about a flugelhorn? Similar in timbre, lighter and smaller to carry, and again a funnel shaped mouthpiece.
  7. kehaulani

    kehaulani Fortissimo User

    May 14, 2011
    Hawaian homey
    Pocket trumpet?
    When I lived in Japan, I had one that I just carried around with me in case I ran into a situation where I could just join in. Amazingly, the first day I did that, within less than five minutes, I heard some guys playing on the second floor of a building I was passing, just walked up the stairs and joined them. Very cool.

    Importantly, though - IMO this is definitely not the kind of thing one just springs on someone else out of the blue. She may not like the idea in general, or the instrument in particular. Then that puts her in a pretty awkward situation as to what to do. Even though the element of surprise would be gone, I would have a chat with her about the idea and then show her some choices and see how she reacts. I mean, usually it's not a great idea, no matter how well intended, to just spring a musical instrument on someone, especially one which might be a bit "odd" to a kid.
  8. tobylou8

    tobylou8 Utimate User

    Dec 22, 2008
    I'm with Ed on this. The embouchures are so different that there is little practical transferable value in a different instrument. I bought a really nice Conn 60B "Super Connstellation" from a French horn player. Asked him why he never played it. He related how he was asked to play something in church one Sunday on the 60B. He practiced for a week and finally said no. Too difficult to sound good on such short notice. His loss was my gain.
    Hose F-Horn?? I don't know how many feet it would take to make one but that could be n option.
  9. MatthewVanitas

    MatthewVanitas New Friend

    Aug 25, 2007
    Huh, I had not thought of flugelhorn; some brief glancing around seems to indicate it's somewhat more like a French horn than a trumpet in behavior. Would the embouchure be close enough that it wouldn't cause as much mental interference as cornet, etc? Flugelhorns don't pop up as plentiful and cheap as student cornets on eBay, but hopefully some shopping around could find a sturdy beater.

    Reading up, it appears that mellophone can be even closer to horn handling, and use horn mouthpieces with an adaptor, but I'm reading that they're finnicky and louder so maybe not a great chillout instrument. Flugelhorn seems the smoothest recommendation thus far for a more portable but still accessible brass instrument, and glancing on YouTube there are duets of it playing with acoustic instruments (with mute?); appears indoor-friendly. Any other brass that are decent French horn segues but add some flexibility/diversity? I take it bugles and valved bugles are too loud, and too trumpet-embouchure?

    Definitely, as mentioned at the end of my OP, I'll be chatting out some options with her for her to choose. Since at this point I'm not seeing many primitive brass instruments that are melodic, and affordable, and reasonably accessible (serpent is awesome, but that'd be quite a shift...), the main options I'm seeing so far are either one of the less-common cousins in the brass family that's compatible with some French horn abilities, or else to get her some fipple woodwind where embouchure isn't really an issue. The benefit of the latter is that many of those are inexpensive, and available in synthetic materials that make them easy to haul around. Native American flute is pretty outstanding for chillout music, and being pentatonic (with chromatics available for half-holing) it lends itself to intuitive musicmaking.

    This has been really informative so far, I'm not a classical/band guy so cornet or flugelhorn would never have jumped out at me. For the folks more skeptical about brass transition, does getting her an ocarina, tinwhistle, Native American flute, etc., something with a simple fipple, seem a good option?

    And again, I'll definitely not choose for her, but will present her with a number of suggestions, some YouTube clips thereof, and see what jumps out at her.

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